A Writing Meme

I got this from Courtney – loved hers and couldn’t resist having a go. The idea is to write seven points about writing and to tag people on the eighth but I’d much rather leave it open to everybody.

1. I absolutely adore quotations by famous writers about writing. A half hour in their company and I feel the way I imagine drunks must after a fabulous AA session; all these wonderful people finding ways to be witty and wry about their incurable sickness! Here’s a few of my favourite quotes:

‘A writer is someone for whom writing is more difficult than it is for other people.’ Thomas Mann

‘Every book is the wreck of a perfect idea.’ Iris Murdoch

Writers aren’t exactly people. Or if they’re any good, they’re a whole lot of people trying to be one person.’ F. Scott Fitzgerald.

‘Better to write for yourself and have no public than to write for the public and have no self.’ Cyril Connolly

‘A writer lives, at best, in a state of astonishment. Beyond any feeling he has of the good or the evil of the world lies a deeper one of wonder at it all.’ William Sansom

2. At the moment I’m writing at three levels: an academic book that I must complete, a non-fiction book that I want to complete and a blog that I’m under no obligation to continue but that I cannot leave alone. I notice with interest and frustration that it is a) far easier to write when it has no connection to making a living, and b) also far easier the more I can just put myself into the writing. The academic book, which causes me the most difficulties, does so because I must erase my presence from it.

3. What most attracts me to writing is the sense of quiet industry I associate with it, and yet this pretty image is ludicrous when compared to the reality. So much of my writing has happened at the kitchen table in a snatched, hasty way, pushing aside correspondence that requires my attention and maintaining a running commentary with my son. Even when my space is peaceful, the inside of my head when I’m writing is not. And the steady gentle pace of writing I fantasize, the pace of a solitary long-distance runner, is replaced always by the trajectory of an arthritic, wizened little 80-year-old lady, pushing her Zimmer frame uphill. Of course there is one beautiful moment, possibly only brought into being by the sight of the penultimate paragraph, when she throws aside her metal cage, hops onto a motorbike and zooms downhill. And that moment is the one I disingenuously cling to when I say ‘yes of course I can do that for you in the next three months.’

4. I hate rewriting but I love cutting. Rewriting, as one of my delightful quotes goes, is just ‘like scrubbing the basement floor with a toothbrush.’ Picking a passage apart transforms it from a poorly written passage to a complete lexical bomb site that has to be painfully reassembled. Cutting is a joy; whatever strikes me as dull or repetitive or redundant can just be chopped. Of course sometimes I have to say goodbye to the odd sentence that I really loved, but you know what, I never think of it again once I’ve pressed delete.

5. When I was twelve I won a writing competition at school and, along with ten or so runners-up, got to meet Jill Paton Walsh who gave us a sort of master class. For our exercise she was asking us all to write a short story, and as she went around the group she picked on each individual to praise them for some particular literary quality they possessed. Waiting for her to finally reach me (I was last in line) was probably the moment when I first displayed true writerly inclinations: I was longing for her to say something like ‘darling, your prose is just so incandescently wondrous that I can’t isolate any one feature; just keep doing what you do!’ In fact she said ‘and I’m sure you can use some of your nice description in the story, too.’ Well, I was bitterly disappointed and I’m not sure that I wrote anything in that master class. I knew whatever I wrote wouldn’t be any good. But it’s a valuable lesson you can’t learn early enough that not everyone is going to appreciate you, and as regularly as you receive fierce criticism, you are damned by faint praise. I don’t think the answer is to ignore it and do your own thing; the answer is to recognize they might have a point and do something about it.

6. Which also goes to show that I am a much better writer when I know I am writing for an audience, and, furthermore, when I know roughly what that audience expects. I have to think that somebody wants what I’m about to produce to even get started, and when I direct that writing towards someone in particular it will come off much better than what I attempt to write for a large, featureless public. I’ve only ever written books to contract as well. I’ve agreed to submit an article to a collected volume and the email has just come around telling us that the editors have yet to find a publisher but still want our articles by the end of October. I can feel my feet growing distinctly and irrevocably colder…

7. Partly this may be because I’m just not very impressed by my own writing. I think my style is rather bland and hopelessly repetitive. I’m dreading the day when someone figures out that my vocabulary is only about a hundred words but that I’m sneaky and use words designed to trigger emotions in the reader, thus obscuring this fact. I think my sentences are too long, and in general I write too much and there are often awkward, stumbly moments in each torturous paragraph. If I write, it’s because I have this strange, tenacious hope that tomorrow I might manage to do just a little bit better than today.

16 thoughts on “A Writing Meme

  1. That’s interesting what you say about rewriting — I like it, actually — maybe because the stress of producing the first draft is over, and I have already gotten out the main points I want to make. I like responding to people’s comments and feedback, too — I think of it as a challenge, and it’s a challenge I find a lot less stressful than writing the first draft.

  2. Litlove–I’m surprised about #7–I think you are a wonderful writer, and your style strikes me as anything but bland! I especially love it when you tell stories–not just the personal ones–but the ones within a post having to do with authors or writing. That’s when I find myself most often losing myself within the writing–if that makes sense. I could never be a writer–I know what I like–I think I can at least recognize good writing, but I also know I could never do it (not the way I would want to!). But that’s okay really–I have never set out to write–I would much rather be on the other side of the process. I figure what I do is chat–which is okay, too. Still, I am always happy to improve!! Great quotes by the way.

  3. Pingback: Too Easy Not To «

  4. When I go back and reread what I write I’m happy for the most part, but there are times when I cringe. I imagine how my meaning can be misconstrued. And then there are the typos. I visit your blog, Litlove, to see how its really done. Example: ‘I can feel my feet growing distinctly and irrevocably colder…’

  5. Litlove, stop taking those overmodesty pills! You know what you write is an absolute delight. The liveliness and personality in your writing is just as important as the interesting things you inform about and the comments you make. Many an interesting thing is lost to the world by the dull expression that turns away readers, but lots of us regularly read here. Look at those stats – more hits than a pub dart board. Got to be good.

  6. Soul sisterhood yet again: I love reading what writers have to say about writing. I hate rewriting, but just give me a red pen and tell me to cut, and I’m in seventh heaven. And with the exception of the last sentence of #7, which for me would be, “I write because I am absolutely possessed to do so,” I can’t think of anything else I’ve ever heard or read that so expresses how I feel (especially that vocabulary bit, which, of course, is why I’m so repetitive).

  7. Dorothy – how wonderful to like rewriting, when it takes up so much of the writing life! I think you have chosen your preferences very wisely! Danielle – there is something so incredibly easy and welcoming about the way you write I actually consider you to be a great natural stylist. And thank you so much for your lovely words;I shall definitely post another of my stories next week – I’m going to do one with a happy ending for a change! Charlotte – you’re so right, it’s writing a little most days that makes me feel like I’m getting somewhere. Booksplease – good on you! Blogs are wonderful for fulfilling that kind of aim. Harriet – I’ll be over to see what you’ve done very shortly! Ian – that is so immensely sweet of you! I think you have a lovely style yourself – clear and so humourous and candid. JMC – hello and welcome – that blogroll game is wonderful for finding new people to visit – I shall come over to your site very shortly! And I do love quotations – they’re so satisfying! Bookboxed – oh you are so very kind. I guess I am quite a harsh judge on what I produce. I always feel I could have done it better – well, as Iris Murdoch suggests is inevitable… I am so very thankful that you and other regular readers turn up! Emily – I think your last line is better than mine. That’s the very best reason for writing there is, sister!

  8. Thank you, Chris! I’m going to see if I can track down anything by Cyril Connolly as I believe he was considered quite the witty critic in his day.

  9. I love quotes about writing too. For some reason I think if I study them long enough the secrets of the writer will be completely revealed. I’m with Dorothy, I like revising too. I tend toward perfectionism and a first draft is always a long and torturous experience, after that everything else seems like a walk in the park. As for your writing Litlove, you have such a smart, engaging style and I am certain your have a vocabulary of at least 101 words! 😉

  10. Pingback: 7 Points About Writing « Natalia Antonova

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