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Reflections of a working writer and reader



Learning to Write II

Snow blanketed the field. This is not good enough. You have to find fresh language.

In Learning to Write I I quoted Ezra Pound. Here is something else he said: Make it new.

By this he meant exactly what he said, but he also meant that you should make it specific rather than general. Don’t say the floor was littered with clothes when you can say that there were three brightly coloured shirts, one with the buttons torn off and another tied into a knot.

Don’t try to be a writer without a thesaurus. Life is hard enough as it is.

10 Responses to “Learning to Write II”

  1. kimbofo says:

    That Ezra Pound quote is something I’ve used to guide me as a journalist throughout my professional life, together with George Orwell’s mantra “why use a long word, when a short word will do”.

  2. Excellent advice John! “Make it specific rather than general” – this is something that I discovered while in my search to improve my writing skills. I often found that the writings I felt were truly fantastic, often had this common characteristic of specifics. I often notice this now when a writer writes in generalities or specifics. These specifics are what I feel strongly contribute to a messages character and has the power to move the reader.

    Another thing that I have found which stands out to me in writings, is when writers attempt to describe something they often tell us about it, rather then show us. Take for example this haiku I helped someone with:

    Eagle soaring high
    underneath the golden sun
    symbol of freedom

    note: they TELL us it’s a symbol of freedom

    My slightly modified version:
    “Eagle soaring high
    underneath the golden sun
    – wind beneath its wings”

    note: how you now FEEL the freedom by SHOWING it.

  3. …and one other thing, don’t use the word “often” as often as I did in the previous comment! LOL. 🙂

  4. Paula says:

    These are words we should remember and use in practice.

  5. Polaris says:

    Talking of “Making it new”, my sister recently read out (on the phone) a passage from Love in the Time of Cholera, where the lines on Fermina Daza’s hands are called the “hieroglyphics” of her destiny. What a superb metaphor!

  6. Lee says:

    There is a distinct danger, however, in trying to make it new without making it true.

  7. john baker says:

    Thanks for these responses, all of them.
    Travis, I didn’t even notice the over-use of ‘often’ until you pointed it out. And, yes, the haiku is improved by your intervention.
    Polaris, I love the hieroglyphics of her destiny. It reminds me of something Proust said about the story which is hidden inside of the writer. Proust refers to it as a series of hieroglyphs. It is there, complete, but in order to gain access to it the writer has to translate it.
    And Lee, I’m sorry but you can’t leave us dangling like that. Please expand on the danger you perceive in making it new without making it true.

  8. That’s really good advice about specifics. I wish I’d realised it before. Excellent way to counteract flabbiness in your writing, which is one of my big weaknesses. Thanks.

  9. Pearl says:

    Ezra Pound’s example is solid. I’ll keep it in mind.

  10. Free says:

    Don’t try to be a writer without a thesaurus. Life is hard enough as it is.

    That one cracked me up because I pretty much sleep with mine. I also like to eavesdrop on other people to pick up words and phrases. (Remember, I’m the chick who develops an accent whenever I read Agatha Christie novels.)

    I’m digging these lessons, John. I’m taking a writing break and feeding the mind. You’re serving up well!