Wednesday, 6 April 2011

On writing...


I don’t subscribe to the idea that the act of writing is some mysterious creative process that must involve Inspiration and a certain amount of neurosis at all times. Clearly, a pinch must be present but in general I sit down, I have a think, then get some words down. It really is that simple – or rather I choose to believe it’s that simple because I’m a sensible, pragmatic sort of person. Not for me the chaos, draped chiffons and public anguish of the eccentric lady author; the teetering piles of books in my study are about as raw as it gets round here.

Now, I confess I have never been to a creative writing class. I’m sure I would have found it helpful and interesting if I had. But then again, I always wondered whether most creative writing classes were taken by those who needed the kick-start, or the validation, or the blueprint to get started. I have always read greedily, and been interested in how and why books worked, so it seemed that much of what I needed was already embedded in those books. This is, of course, a very personal view of what was right for me - other people will have very different views and experiences. 

As far as I can see, the main requirement for starting and finishing a novel is determination. It was quite a while before I found the courage to begin writing fiction, purely because I wanted to write a novel so much, but that’s another issue. When I did finally start, after I’d worked as a journalist for long enough to prove myself, I learned most of the technicalities of writing a book by daring to try.


The symbol of that determination, for me, is this cherished fountain pen. My parents bought it for me when I was fourteen, and I wrote with it for the rest of my time at school, gripped tight through all the important exams, my Cambridge entrance papers and, finally my degree. These days it’s only used to write letters to special people, but I never pick it up, and feel it rest in the bump of my middle finger that it made all those years ago, without remembering those make-or-break times, when pushing on towards an end was all I could envisage.

This doesn’t give much insight into the writing process, does it? But I wouldn’t presume to tell anyone else how to write. If you have a love of words and language, and you want it enough, you’ll find your own way. But I will share one piece of knowledge that has always kept me writing, and working fast:

It doesn’t have to be perfect.

Deceptively simple, but like so many of the simplest methods, extremely effective. That shouldn't imply slapdash and rushed. What it means is that you give yourself permission to put words on the page that aren’t necessarily the finished product, lines you will go back and polish. It’s so much easier to play around with words that are already on the page than to stare at a blank screen or sheet. You can warm up by writing what comes into your head first – it’s amazing how fast you can hit your stride with the better stuff – and you will rarely be troubled by writer’s block.

46 comments:

MuMuGB said...

Thanks for this post Deborah. I have this dream of writing a novel but, as I am an Engineer, I am not sure that I actually can...maybe what I need is just, as you say, determination...and not making excuses for myself...

Helen Smith said...

I love the photos on your blog. It took me a while to work out what was next to your pen - an overripe, discoloured pineapple? Then I saw the larger photo above it and realised it was a lovely candle.

Stacey Donaldson said...

Oh my dear Deborah, you are lovely. I need to put my conversation about determination to rest and start on my novel! I am inspired. I write daily, but usually articles online or my blog, but not my novel. I'm going to do it, butt in chair, fingers to keys, and words to screen...

The fountain pen is priceless, I can completely understand why you hold it close to your heart.

journeytoepiphany said...

It's always good to hear another writer's writing process. Thanks for not making it some kind of mystical thing that I could never learn from...

catzgarden said...

Wonderful blog - and great attitude: keep it simple. No need for unnecessary drama.

Terrific pictures throughout your blog - thanks so much!

Richard said...

Durant des années, j'avais envie d'écrire un roman. Mais je ne savais pas par où commencer. Jusqu'au jour, où j'ai bien voulu traduire toutes les sensations que je ressentais, et les émotions que je vivais. Comme dans un film, tout se déroulait. Et j'ai alors puisé dans mes souvenirs pour revivre des situations vécues et d'autres que j'avais rêvées. Et ma main s'est mise à écrire, jusqu'au bout, jusqu'à tout ce que j'avais emmaginé en moi, des années durant, soit posé sur le papier. Et j'ai reposé le stylo. Tout était dit.
Bon courage à toi, Deborah, et franc succès!

Cathy K said...

Thanks for your inspiration as I write towards the climax of my own novel-in-progress. Simple advice, but not always so easy!

Atypical Scott said...

I see you too have that pen you cherish. I have one as well that has never been used, given to me by my in-laws who do not quite believe in me enough to bother but just enough to tease and indirectly inspire. I have made a promise that its first use will be to sign a copy of the novel in print to the same person who gifted me with the device to do so. Poetic justice in my mind.

Elizabeth Young said...

Hi Deborah, I have never taken a creative writing class either, but then again, I've never been to Cambridge! I do agree that it's extremely important to write things down when inspired. I had a funny conversation with my daughter about writing things on the back of napkins, gum boxes, cheque books, one's hands etc! We never leave our individual homes without a notebook and pen now. I am embarrassed to admit being inspired about something right in the middle of Church and scribbling a few notes down (I hoped people would think I was making notes on the sermon!) If one doesn't write things down immediately to critique later though, usually the thoughts are gone and one is frustrated. So yes, I heartily agree with you, love your blog, am looking forward to reading your book and am jealous of your house!

Serendipity's Library said...

Another wonderful and inspiring post. Thank you so much for sharing your insight with us. Lovely books in the first photo.

James Kiester said...

Very well said. I'd only add, a writer has to not be afraid to write & rewrite a paragraph umpteen times, until it does flow the way they want it to.

llevinso said...

I took a creative writing class in high school and it did really help with my writing, but then again, I'm not writing any novels so... I think different techniques (classes or otherwise) are helpful for different people. Everyone's brains work in different ways.

Jill Blee said...

I teach writing. I have been paid to teach the same novel writing course over and over again over the last seven or eight years. Every six weeks I get a new batch of students who think they want to write a novel. I know most of them never will. They don't have the passion.

I agree entirely with your comments Deborah. I have never taken a writing course. I just wrote, and re-wrote until it was publishable. Now I do my best creating in coffee shops.

I am also enjoying your posts about Provence. I yearn to get to France but it is a long way from Ballarat.

nerkasalmon said...

Wonderful post. For all of my periodic agonizing and stress, it truly does always come back to this, doesn't it? Writers write (and re-write, and re-write...) After many workshops and writing manuals, there's a comfort in realizing that we all already have the single most necessary tool - the ability to sit down, write, and revise - should we choose to use it. Thanks for this!

Bunched Undies said...

Good advise Deborah. The "mot juste" concept worked well for one writer and, as far as I can tell, one writer only. Just sit down and do it. With our wonderful computers, revision is a breeze. Wonderful post.

Dafeenah said...

Great advice! Something I think I needed to hear (or well read as the case may be). Thank you.


Stopping by from SheWrites

Dafeenah

Samantha Sotto-Yambao said...

Great post. I couldn't agree more. Determination is the bridge we cross from dream to reality.

renilde said...

Yes Deborah, I see what you mean. Similar in my case. No use to sit before a blanc sheet and waiting 'till the perfect picture can be drawn. It's a matter of starting to sketch, looking, making changes, improving, 'till your satisfied.
That detemination, can't it be described as passion? x

Charley Appenzellar said...

Thank you for the simple straight forward advice, how lovely, how refreshing.

litlove said...

Blogs help too, don't they? You get into the habit of sticking something up in a post, and if you decide you don't like it, well, you can bury it the next day with something new. My formative writing experience involved my newborn son and my PhD. He was born a month into my graduate studies, and I learned the hard way that if I had a precious hour to write, I just sat down and did it. I didn't have the energy for any psychodrama. Now he's 16 and I'm the queen of faff at times, but I do know that all it takes is sitting down and putting the words out there, and they really do not have to be the perfect ones at all. Lovely post, Deborah, you really are an inspiration.

Pétales de fées said...

This pen! This is the pen of my husband! A Shaeffer, leaving a single trace nervous and dynamic! Shaeffer is plum and my mate and I do not part with for anything! I so love writing by hand!
What a beautiful leather covers this beautiful picture! Nice day to you!

Forest Dream Weaver said...

I think you describe the creative process in all fields.Blank page or blank canvas,we make the first mark and keep going,then as you say we have material to play around with.

Enjoy your day!

vanessafrance said...

I shall probably never write a novel, although I yearn to do so. It takes determination, yes, but also stamina and more than a soupçon of inspiration. A lot of it is hard slog but you have to have the spark in the first place. I just keep blogging...

Spangle said...

I have been trying to get words down on paper (on computer in my case) within worrying about getting everything perfect first time. I've found that this is difficult at times, because I want to get everything perfect straight away.

What I have learnt from taking my writing seriously, is that you have to have an enormous amount of patience and detemination to get a novel done.

A great post (and I love your pen)!

le blÖg d'Ötli said...

C'est tout aussi agréable de te lire que d'imaginer les mots qui coulent, aussi simplement qu'une rivière dans son lit ou le sang dans les veines...

J'ai une expérience de l'écriture qui me semble similaire... et pourrai bientôt dire que... j'ai écrit un livre (un roman de fait). Tu avais deviné ! Il sortira en octobre.

Quant à TS Eliot, même si la sonorité me réjouit, c'est pur hasard si mon "nom" sonne comme le sien !

Lynne Rees said...

I've missed you! Maybe seeing 'failure' in a positive light helps too. As part of the writing process, as something that helps us learn and takes our writing forward. I like what you say:
'If you have a love of words and language, and you want it enough...' That's so true - wanting it enough.

Deborah Swift said...

Great post. So true. The picures of the pen are lovely, too. And thanks for visiting my blog.

C.E. Hart said...

Deborah,

I found your post in the networkedblogs discussion board and thought I'd come by for a looksie. :)

I love your matter-of-fact style to writing. It has an appealing, unique flavor. The photos you posted are gorgeous and add a great artsy feel.

Applause for keeping track of your pen for several years! That's priceless. I'm lucky to use the same one twice. lol

Happy writing!

Robyn said...

Deborah, such an important lesson I learned writing my dissertation and then recently a sociology of gender textbook. Revision is everything. I wrote on my blog about how I learned in an oil painting class that this is also true about painting (at least with oils). You have to put paint on the canvas first, and then work with that. It seems like it might be true for many things in life. You have to start somewhere, and that start is hardly ever perfect.

Leovi said...

That's what I call it brainstorming, a fall below, other top or middle. Then with arrows you can create a more or less logical but can be experienced and inspiring. Wing job I applied photography, but without words, with objects.

Tommy Sean said...

This was a great post for me to read right now, as I am working hard to keep motivated and focused on a novel. I am determined to complete this one! I like your attitude toward different writing methods. I don't think my own fits a common pattern, but it's mine, and I will do with it everything I can!

Thanks for the post!

-TS
http://tommysean.blogspot.com/

Shannon Young said...

Thank you for the inspiring post Deborah. I'm pretty sensible and pragmatic too, and it's nice to see that it is possible to be a writer without all the drama and neurosis of the "creative types." At the end of the day, you need both the inspiration and the determination to get the job done.

Olga said...

I love to read about the creative process of a writer. Each person has a unique approach to the mysterious task of bringing a creative vision to life.

Debra Ann Elliott said...

Thanks for stopping by this morning. I completly agree... great post on writing by the way!

Janel said...

I always tell my kids you never know what you can accomplishment if you don't try. You have to at least try doing something before you say it's impossible. That's the way I feel about life and my writing. I can always try my best.

Genie -- Paris and Beyond said...

Your heartfelt stories captivate me and when you told about your fountain pen and the "bump" I instinctively reached for that spot, that indention made by pens many years ago. I do not imagine that the youngest among us will have that... perhaps calouses on the fingertips from typing on a word processor.

Bon weekend,
Genie

Vanessa K. Eccles said...

Hi! I appreciate your support in following my blog. I am so excited about your book. I love all the pictures that you have posted. I wish you many blessings and success on your novel. I look forward to reading more posts.

Bunched Undies said...

Howdy Pardner!
You were wrote up
In Bunchie’s Blogger Round-Up!

http://bunchedundies.blogspot.com/2011/04/blogger-round-up-4-8-2011.html

Yee Haw!!

Tiger said...

Nice and inspiring article. Writing is not the difficult part for me though. Getting published on the other hand, now that's a whole other ball-game.

Elisabeth Hirsch said...

These photos fit your words so perfectly ;) Great post.

Deborah Lawrenson said...

Thank you all so much for your lovely, insightful, empathetic comments and additional words of wisdom from experienced writers, teachers and artists. And if I - and others - wrote the right words at the right time for some of you, then I'm so pleased.

Yes, Petales, it's a Shaeffer that writes with a narrow but flowing line. Genie, glad I'm not the only one who still has a pen bump! Thanks, Dave, over at the superb movie blog at Bunched Undies - much appreciated.

Josep said...

It's been a delight to read your posts. As an aspiring writer, I will treasure your advice.

Johanna said...

Love this post, I love writing but my pen has to be perfect so I relate to your fountain pen. The feel of my pen, the sound of my scribble and the way it looks on my page comes full circle to my own writing process. Thanks for following Mom's Tree House and being #400. yay! Following back. : )

BookBelle said...

I think I'm going to print this one off and stick it on my fridge!

Jules (The Great, The Good and The Bad) said...

Determination, determination, determination...I definitely need this mantra. I've become a bit lapse in the last few months of keeping pace and not letting life get in the way.

A really great post!

Jules

KalpanaS said...

An elegant reminder to write, and keep writing!

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