Monday, 6 July 2009

Currently reading: The Way We Write

I’m glad I picked up this book. It is basically a collection of interviews with some successful, award-winning authors about the way they started writing and how they write, their methods, and writing habits, what inspires them and what direction they are seeking to go in with their writing. And how they feel about it all.

The latter is revealing, with a few being really anxious about the quality of their work, seeing how lucky they have been with being noticed by (or connected to) publishers, with others quite straight-forwardly pointing out their strengths, showing their own excellence in capitalising on and developing their skills in forming plot or dialogue or verse.

They speak from a world of success, and some fulfilment, where they are doing what they want to do, despite mentioning difficulties and frustrations and loneliness. You can see how for some of them their sense of purpose and identity is wrapped up in doing what they do, and in feeling they have contributed to the lives of others, touching people in far-off countries, as one writer puts it “adding towards some worldview that is in constant flux and change” (p.72). In a busy market these are the guys reaping the reward that others long for.

It is instructive to see how novelists, poets, children’s writers and playwrights have at times sweated over their work, determined to forge a work with the right kind of words, with the right kind of connotations, the “right” interactions between characters, the “right” sense of place and the perfect harmony between a tactile world, an atmosphere or feeling they want to evoke and the symbolic themes they want to explore. Often the ideas and the expression of them take a while to come together, it seems. The computer can also be a trap too, as you’re in danger of losing your original work and the flow of a whole piece, because editing is so easy.

As my first time writing about a book actually all about writing, what ultimate effect is it having on me? I think it is encouraging me to keep working on my writing, to be more critical about the choices I make, more ready to research and rework, and to find the right times and ways I work best – even my own way of writing poetry (for instance, what do I want people to have to work at understanding in my poetry?) The book too inspires us to make the most of that idea that comes to you in the night, or the scraps hastily written on the back of the envelope or bill that was lying around!

Authors interviewed include Terry Chevalier, author of Girl With a Pearl Earring, poet Al Alvarez, the Oscar-winning script-writer of Gosford Park and the creators of The Snowman and The Gruffalo.

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