Posted by: Jenny | Sunday, 28 February 2010

On writing – and not writing

There are times when I feel like writing, but I just don’t know what to write.  And there are other times when I don’t actually feel like writing at all.  I know that I can ‘make’ myself write by just turning to the page (or screen) and writing any old thing that comes into my head.  Julia Cameron (a writer and artist who has published a very useful and practical book on the art, The Right to Write) calls these ‘morning pages’.

Sometimes my morning pages will deliver a piece of writing that I find meaningful or valuable, and worthy of sharing.  At other times it really is a load of drivel.  I just have to sit down to write, and see what comes out.

What I have not yet managed to achieve, other than in a couple of highly artificial exercises, is any creative work of fiction.  My writing goal is to write short stories.  I don’t feel I have a novel ‘in me’ – and in any event, I enjoy reading stories almost as much as, or perhaps more than, I enjoy novels.  So the short story seems a natural genre to start with.  A short story is also something that I can publish myself, on my blog.  And it is something that, even in these days of electronic media, might be taken up for publication by a magazine.

Although… I am not at all sure that I am seeking a wider readership.  Aside from the very few things I have published on my blog (with its rather small readership) or read aloud on a writing course, all my writing so far has had an audience of one: me.

So it seems I have uncovered a psychological hurdle in my journey towards becoming a writer.  I am afraid of revealing too much of myself to others.  I am not sure I actually want my work to be read.

Another psychological hurdle became apparent to me when I carried out one of the writing exercises in Julia Cameron’s book.  She asks the student to list the people who have been an obstacle to his or her creative expression.  After some reflection I recalled that I had a teacher, when I was 13 or 14, who actively discouraged me from writing stories.  I don’t even recall her name.

As a child, I had loved making up stories – both in play and on the page.  I continued to write highly imaginative stories in my early teens, and in my first years at secondary school I had an imaginative (and also young) English teacher, Miss Swift, who appreciated and encouraged my writing.  Then I moved schools, and found that my stories about people, with settings drawn from my experience and imagination, full of dialogue and following a plot that developed as I wrote, were no longer flavour of the month.  The type of ‘creative writing’ that my new English teacher required was descriptive, theoretical, analytical – in fact the opposite of ‘creative’ in my view.

My subsequent years of school and higher education (and I was fortunate enough to attend good schools and an excellent university) turned me into a young adult who could present a clearly-worded argument and write a precise report.  I’ve never looked back – until now – and my creative writing skills have never recovered.

Until now.

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