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Reflections of a working writer and reader



Learning to Write XI

The use of language and the training of observation in fledgling writers can be damaged, sometimes irredeemably, by often well-meaning teachers of ‘creative-writing’.

If someone, anyone, presumes to teach you the proper use of language for your own fictions, don’t listen. Put yourself at a distance from that person. All you have as a writer is the style, the unique freshness of your own expression. While you work alone on a keyboard or with pen and paper you are developing narrative and characterization skills, you are working out your ideas and perhaps learning other abilities that will be invaluable to you later, like the ability to concentrate on the same theme or the skill to see how one word modifies, enhances or undermines, another. And at the same time you are developing an individual style which may have something in common with the writers you love to read, but which will be, essentially, unique to yourself.

In the same way you should guard your own sense of observation. During a walk through a small historic town a group of writers will observe completely different things. Some the architecture, some the spring flora sprouting between the buildings, others will only notice the local population, perhaps the men or the women, or the children or old folks. For some the location will suggest a plot for a thriller, and for others a medieval love-story will surge to the surface. All of these and many other observations are possible and all are valid.

You should take what you need, what is useful to you as a writer. What you see and how you see it is as much a part of your originality as your use of language. Don’t let any teachers pass on their own blinkers to you, because if you do you will produce work which is an inferior copy of your teacher’s writing. Something much less valuable than the work you are actually capable of.

All writers, at some time or another, feel that they are out of step with the mainstream. But later you will come to see that those feelings were part of the process that made you into a good writer. And don’t worry if you don’t know what kind of observation you have, someone will tell you eventually. This is not something you need to work on consciously. Your readers will tell you what they read into your work.

And if you can’t wait that long, then recall, while reading certain passages in the work of your favourite authors how you say to yourself, Look at that? She sees it so clearly. I see it in exactly the same way. How is it that everyone in the world can’t see it?

3 Responses to “Learning to Write XI”

  1. AuthorStore says:

    John Baker – Learning to Write…

    John Baker continues his excellent Learning to Write series… This one means a lot to me, because it speaks to the core of what writing is really all about: you (the writer) and the story. If you write what you……

  2. Randy says:

    My daughter is a writer and seems to be in a continual state of self-doubt. She is somewhat of a perfectionist and this is a two-edged sword for her.
    She asked me yesterday if I thought she was too slow in writing. I avoided the answer for the reasons you mention in your post.

  3. Randy says:

    So true! It is the same with music. You need basic skills, obviously, but the creative process is far too personal to be put in a box and dished out like portions.