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A Rant About Writing

February 10, 2011

Here is a lesson in creative writing. First rule: Do not use semicolons. They are transvestite hermaphrodites representing absolutely nothing. All they do is show you’ve been to college.

Kurt Vonnegut, A Man without a Country

US novelist (1922 – 2007)

The Ten Step Program: By Sarah Gallear.

In search of a copy of The Writers Handbook 2011 I found myself standing in-front of the literary and creative writing section of Wolverhampton Waterstones. They did not have a copy of the handbook but instead they had a dazzling array of titles such as Creative Writing For Dummies, How To Write A Novel In Ten Easy Steps and follow my instructions and you will soon find yourself knee-deep in more cash than you know what to do with. There was every book you could think of which promised greatness and glory could be yours as a writer if only you would please buy their book.

And this got me wondering…

Can writing as an art form really be taught to someone? Have we all been going horribly wrong every time we commit pen to paper and the answer lay in just ten easy steps if we had bothered to pick up the book in the first place?

This sparked an entire train of thought in my head. Surely this had to be some sort of inverted snobbery. I had after all studied creative writing at University it had made up one half of my degree. Surely the only difference between my BA and the people reading those books was I had done my learning in the lecture hall and they had done theirs between the pages of a book.

But this of course is nonsense. I need books to teach me many things but how to write is not one of them; I use books to decide what I feel is good and bad writing, but this is my own opinion. My point is a great writer is born and not made, they don’t have to be published to venerate their skills. Some of the most talented writers I have known have been unpublished; it means nothing, just you signed a contract.

Take music for example, I could teach you the basics; which notes are which and in which order they should and shouldn’t go. I can teach you to read it and even compose music, but could I turn you into a world-class musician? No and neither can a book teach you about writing.

It may tell you the way to construct your chapter and the various stages your hero should be going through in his quest to fulfill his ultimate role within the story. But writing itself, the words you commit to paper should be an organic, almost unconscious act. Structure should be the last thing on your mind as you allow the story to breathe on its own. Some of the best novels ever written have been the ones that have broken the rules of what scholars tell you the novel should be about.

I also don’t believe in that phrase: “everyone has a novel inside of them” this would then justify the existence of these books. Your skill as a writer is there, we just have not tapped into its potential power yet. If you pick up one of these books then I think you have failed in your original aim of writing something in the first place.

I remember at university one of the biggest complaints that I used to hear from other people was “but they are not teaching us creative writing!” They seemed to miss the point entirely of the sessions; it was meant to be a sounding board of ideas where you could develop, grow and experiment within your style. Sometimes this would be disastrous and others would be glorious triumphs. The one piece of advice I received at the end of my degree was: Read, read as much as you can and write all of the time as this is the only way to develop as a writer. This is the philosophy that I hold true to, I know what I consider to be good writing, and I develop my writing each time my pen threatens another piece of paper.

The day you look towards a book to teach you how to create something of your own imagination is the day that you have failed.

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