Sunday, 14 November 2010

Funny How Life Turns Out

I didn't like writing essays much at school, and I didn't like it at university. In fact, one of my clearest memories is after my final final exam thinking: I will never write an essay EVER AGAIN.

Funny how life turns out.

As the Royal Literary Fund Fellow at Bristol I'm giving advice to students about writing. It could be any sort of writing but, hardly surprisingly, essay writing is pretty much top of the list. I've given quite a few lectures on the subject too.

What I've realised is that the process of writing an essay, or an article, or a novel, or a short story, or a screenplay is pretty much the same. You select information and order it in a logical way which leads the reader through from start to finish without losing them on the journey. You pitch it depending on your target audience. The length is dictated by the form, the content is dictated by the length - an essay or short story is about a single idea, the novel, feature length screenplay or dissertation is about several ideas.

Every time I give a talk, I'm using the same skill base - selecting information and ordering it to make a satisfying whole. Same formula for a class, where exercises and readings take the place of quotes and citations. When I work on a novel, I'm asking myself if that bit of information about the central character is relevant, just the same way a student might wonder if they should include a particular reference.

All those years later after that final exam, I now realise I've spent the best part of my life doing what? Writing essays. Funny how life turns out.

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