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Reflections of a working writer and reader



Learning to Write XIV

You’ll know when it’s time to write your first novel because the thing will spring into your mind fully formed. It might happen at any time of day or night, but it will probably be at night, if not the middle of the night when you are in bed asleep. Now wide awake.

You may back off or procrastinate. You could turn over onto your side and go back to sleep. When you come awake in the morning there will be an uneasy feeling that something of significance happened during the night, but you won’t know exactly what it was.

If you are going to be a novelist you will gather your courage together and go to a keyboard and a screen or a piece of blank paper and try to write down what was in your dream and perhaps what is still quite clear in your mind.

What will defeat you, if anything does, is the shape of the novel. The shape of the concept in your mind is too large and unwieldy. It will refuse to be formed whole on the page. This business of transforming it from your mind to your page is what writing is about.

The shape in the mind has to be deconstructed and reassembled piecemeal onto the page. And the deconstruction and the reassembly are not a part of the talent which you have inherited or been given as a birthright. They are skills which you have to learn.

Unfortunately there is no other way to write a novel but piecemeal. You can acquire the tools to enable you to perform this operation by yourself, or you can be taught them by someone else. If you decide to take the route of a teacher be very careful that the teacher you choose is going to teach only technique. As soon as you suspect that anything else is being introduced into the equation, back away.

As well as learning to acquire the skills of your new trade it is also your responsibility to protect the flash of genius which separates you from all the other voices out there.

7 Responses to “Learning to Write XIV”

  1. Martyn says:

    Thanks for that post John. It’s very pertinent to where I find myself at the moment.

    Hi Martyn, that’s one of the great things about blogging. You put a thought out there and someone’s waiting for it.

  2. I’ll second that. I really enjoy the Learning to Write posts, this one in particular.

    Have a great holiday.

    jb says: You, too, Matthew; it’ll go quick and we’ll all be back again before you know it.

  3. John,
    I wish you and yours a wonderful Christmas & all the best in 2007!
    Best always,
    a crimeficreader

    jb says: And the same to you, Crimeficreader. See you in the new year. Soon.

  4. trevor johnson says:

    I just stumbled upon this blog. I’ve read a few posts on writing but haven’t had time to do much more. I bookmarked it though.

    I haven’t tried my hand at writing a novel yet. I was really into screenwriting a couple of years ago, and I sat down one night and started typing — 21 days later I had a 136 page script — so I know what you mean by disseminating and reassembling an complex idea. I have to say that a lot changed during the writing. It sort of began writing itself.

    I’ve come pretty far since that script, and recently published my first story (actually it posted a week ago). I’m at work on a novella. It’s an idea I’ve had for a year or so, but have been hesitant to begin because I wanted my ability to match the story. I think I’m ready now.

    Looking forward to reading your views on the writing process.

    jb says: Hi Trevor, good to see you here. Hope you enjoy what you find when you get time to have a good look at the site.

  5. beth says:

    Fascinating post, John. I’ll link to it – have just been musing on my blog about how short blog posts and longer works do or don’t feed each other. That was more about non-fiction, but I think the readers will appreciate what you’ve said here. I certainly do!

    Hi Beth, I’m just glad it was useful. I also read your recent three pieces on writing and feel that you express something which is a potential problem for all blogging writers.

  6. Charlotte says:

    John, thanks for pointing to exactly where I am with my writing. I have a whole idea, a cast of characters, a plot, but not a SHAPE. That’s what’s been defeating me thus far, because I don’t seem to have the skills to shape my ideas. I see that I need to sit down and battle through it.

    jb says: Hi Charlotte, Yes, it will certainly be a battle. But didn’t Borges say something about a battle, a fight, also being a celebration . . . ?

  7. Rod Stewart says:

    Merry Christmas to you and your family John! A lovely prick of inspiration to flesh out one’s muse 🙂

    May I glimpse along the edge
    To sense the periphery of glowing doubt
    Of touching thin translucent film
    Between the place where I press,
    And the question where I may wander.
    To taste a curious wine
    Leaking through a permeable otherness,
    A pungent addiction,
    From which my heart cries
    To distill a peculiar sweetness,
    To answer some persistant because 🙂