Practicing the Craft

A lot of my writing groups are made up of people who have not written creatively for a long time.  Or, if they have, they’ve not talked about it.  Life, as in work and family, perhaps travel, has kept them too busy.  But now, something in that mix has changed and they’re ready to pick up on a dream that has always been at the back of their minds.  That, ‘One day I’m going to write a …’ is now.

The trouble is, they don’t quite know where to start.  ‘Of course,’ they say.  ‘I’ll never be good enough.’

Always I come up against the old idea that a writer, a real writer, is able to dash off a story that is perfectly formed and ready for public consumption in a hot rush of inspiration, rather like Mozart does his music scores in the film, Amadeus.

No doubt some writers are able to do that.  Good for them.  But plenty more of us would not dare to send out a first draft.  We take time afterwards to polish.

‘Write and rewrite,’ I tell my groups.  ‘That is the keystone to good writing.’

Luckily, there’s evidence to back me up.  From Steven King to Ernest Hemingway, to Ursula Le Guin, to H.E. Bates, to Katherine Mansfield and a hundred more great and successful writers I owe thanks not just for their honesty in talking about the processes of rewriting and editing, but their pride in it.

I like to stress the idea of writing as a craft as well as an art.  Generally, we value artisan-made objects more highly than those mass-produced, because of the skills and imagination that have gone into them.  We know that the nature of the individual materials has affected the finished design.  So shouldn’t we writers aspire to putting the same amount of care into the worlds we build with words?

I don’t know whether Mozart ever went back over his scores and made adjustments, but I’m pretty sure that any of the great writers would be happy to admit that they had made improvements to their writing.

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