Thursday, 12 August 2010

The Romantic Myth of Writing?

Oh dear.  I was listening to the radio this morning discussing the Manchester Writers.  At one point the presenter studied the original manuscript for Howard Spring's Fame is the Spur and expressed amazement at how perfectly it was written out, with hardly any corrections - proof, he felt, of a different era when writers had to put pen to page with the novel already planned in their heads.  It didn't seem to occur to him that this might be a 'good' draft, the final result of many scrappy and untidy drafts.  

It's a lovely idea that - if you're talented enough - books simply flow from brain to page.  I wish!  Maybe there are some extraordinarily talented people around for whom that's true, but I simply don't believe it.  Yes, it's tedious writing stuff out by hand and I can see how now we all use computers, it may appear incredible that anyone writes out a whole novel by hand, corrects it, and then writes it out again, but it's what people used to do.  

Obviously you wouldn't want to do it too often, so pre-computer age writers were more careful about what they wrote, but I don't believe there were many single draft manuscripts about.  Those who wrote serials - Dickens, for example - didn't have the opportunities to correct their stories once they'd gone to press, but I think all writers take the opportunity to revise if they can. And if that means handwriting several drafts, so be it.

And if anyone says otherwise, well, writers lie!  We don't always want to expose our working practices, so smudge over the truth.  Perhaps it sounds better to some if a writer is taking dictation, as it were, from their subconscious rather than doggedly writing and re-writing until you've got something worth publishing.  Some writers may indeed wait for inspiration from their 'muse' before they put pen to paper, or finger to keyboard, but none that I know of. 

Writing is creative, but it also involves hard work.  I'm not a very disciplined writer personally, but at some point I do sit down and actually write enough consistently to make a novel.  I don't wait for 'my muse' - if I did, I'd not be able to pay the bills.  

Sorry this has come late - I'm still without internet access at home - and have been reduced to writing this in a beautiful hotel with WiFi, sipping a delicious cup of tea while I stare out at the lawns stretching towards a verdant valley...


dirtywhitecandy said...

Sarah, this is so true! Readers have no idea how often published writers have rewritten a novel. But this means that many people who try their hand at novel-writing don't realise they have to revise - or even that they have permission to get some elements wrong and correct them later.

I'm new to your blog, but I'm a friend of Peter Richardson so decided it was high time I nipped over. Nice to meet you and to read your refreshingly sensible posts.

Sarah Duncan said...

Hi there - any friend of Peter's is a friend of mine! That's a really good point about permission to get things wrong; trying to get it perfect first time is such an enemy to creativity. Hope you carry on liking the blog.