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Reflections of a working writer and reader



Learning to Write VII

He has lost his way. He reaches out, wondering what is around him. It is night but there is no moon, not even the twinkling of the odd star. The ground is uneven. Slowly he begins to realize that these objects are the trunks and branches of trees, there is the tangle of undergrowth and if there are any wild beasts in the area they are holding their silence, watching quietly on the sidelines.

Although he can see nothing, he has the feeling that a way forward exists, and the very fact of forging his way forward in the darkness will eventually bring about the conditions for light and, subsequently, sight. As he fights to orient himself the light from the rising sun penetrates through the thick growth of the forest, and he begins to see.

This is how Dante opens his master-work, the poem, the Divine Comedy.

But it is also how most writers, if you corner them, will describe the act of writing, at least the beginning of that process.

I don’t know whether to use the word desire or the word compulsion to describe what takes the writer into that darkness and keeps him or her there until the sun comes up. Neither of those words exactly identify the feeling, but it is something like desire or compulsion which is at work.

Perhaps it is a wish to die to the light of our everyday world, to plunge into the unknown in the hope of discovering something new, something unheard of or unimaginable?

3 Responses to “Learning to Write VII”

  1. patry says:

    An astute description of an almost indescribable process.

    Love the Plath quote, too. In fact, I’m thinking of having it tattooed on the back of my hand.

    jb says:  So, you recognised the process, Patry?  You’re right, it is difficult to get hold of.
    There is more than one Sylvia Plath quotation in the database, but if it’ll fit on the back of your hand it must’ve been: Nothing stinks like a pile of unpublished writing.

  2. Lee says:

    I’m fond of Elizabeth Bishop’s description of writing as seeking ‘self-forgetful, perfectly useless concentration’: basketball’s zone, as I’ve said in a post yesterday.

  3. Josh says:

    I think it’s very well written and I couldn’t even stop reading it from just a moment, a single moment. I really do hope to find more good articles on this website, and may you keep growing and do a good job.
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