Friday, 23 December 2011

T is for Totalitarianism

I often begin classes by announcing that they are not democracies but dictatorships: my personal fiefdom. It's meant to be a joke (and does usually get a rather nervous laugh) but it's also a truth. What I teach is about writing as I see it. What I say goes.

The trouble is, I might be wrong.

I don't think I'm wrong for me - though I hope I'm always open to new ideas - but I'm certainly wrong for some people some of the time. For others, I'm wrong all of the time. That's just the way it is. For every writer who plans, there's another who doesn't, and another who does some of the time, and then there are those who are just muddling through writing ideas on scraps of paper. There really isn't a right, or a wrong way to write, just your way.

But there are people around for whom a totalitarian approach isn't a jokey comment at the beginning of a class. They tell you what you should do in no uncertain terms. Do this, do that - and if it doesn't work for you, then you have a problem because it works for me and I'm published and you're not.

Well, phooey.

All I - or any other writer/teacher - can do is make suggestions for things that have worked for us, and we might know have worked for others, and hope it works for you. It seems to me it's always worth having a bash and seeing what happens because it's no big deal if one method doesn't work; there's always another to try. I'm perfectly happy when a student says "I tried to to what you recommended, but it didn't work, so I followed what someone else said and that was brilliant".* I want people to enjoy their writing, and how they get there isn't about me, it's about them.

Anyway, that's enough for me for the time being. I'm taking a break over Christmas and might come back next week and finish off the alphabet, but certainly normal service will be restored after New Year. Happy Christmas everyone, and here's to a great writing year in 2012!

*Actually, not being a saint, I'm not 100% happy, it's b****y annoying and don't ever, ever do it to me - OK? Or it's time in the gulags for you.


Giles Diggle said...

T is for TEEtotalitariansim - Couldn't agree more about freedom of choice and finding one's own way whilst listening to advice. The only thing that doesn't work for me is alcohol the night before writing - the two don't mix. A clear head is all. Tell that to Dylan Thomas!

That's why it's nice to take two weeks off for Christmas and have a drink or two. Have a good one and thanks for doing what you do in this blog.

Dan Purdue said...

Merry Christmas, Sarah! Enjoy your break and I'll keep my fingers crossed that you do finish off the alphabet - I'm intrigued as to what X and Z might be.

Best wishes for a brilliant New Year.

Diane Fordham said...

Thanks for all your posts Sarah - I have learnt so much. Look forward to reading more in 2012. Have a happy and safe xmas. x

Penelope Alexander said...

Thank you for all your thoughts, Sarah. Have a lovely Christmas, and see you in the New Year!

Philip C James said...

Oh Supreme Writer and Dear Reader, I wish you'd warned us earlier. I've spent all year expressing opposing views and challenging the teacher's wise pronouncements little knowing that the premonitions of extreme cold and whistling winds were the harbingers of the threatened Gulag!

In mitigation, I couldn't help it of course. People accuse me of Contrarianism; I tell them they're wrong.

So thank you for your forbearance but above all, thank you for sharing with us your experience, wisdom, clear analysis and idiosyncratic humour on the subject of writing creatively for fun and profit.

Merry Christmas, Sarah!

Eryl said...

Happy Christmas, Sarah, and thank you for all the great advice.

Fiona Faith Maddock said...

A very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to you, Sarah. Your blog is a useful and valuable resource for me. I don't always make a comment on a post but I read all of them and learn something which helps me progress, or work through a particular issue with the WIP. May 2012 be happy and successful for all of us writers (and for the rest of the world).

Sarah Duncan said...

Thanks all - a break from the computer was just the thing, although I'm finding it hard to get back into work mode...