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Some Myths about Writing by Catherine Brophy

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Catherine Brophy

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So, you want to be a writer?   Before you start you should know that there are myths about writing and writers that you might have picked up along the way.  They’ve hampered up many an aspiring writer and even stopped some from writing at all.   But, once you know about them, it helps.

WRITERS ARE A BREED APART.

Joan Acocella (New Yorker (June14 & 21 ‘04), writes that artists on general, have gained a mystical aura in our society.  So, if they get drunk, use drugs, or otherwise misbehave it’s because they’re geniuses who can channel some spirit, some energy, some wisdom from the Cosmos.    This may be flattering but it’s  hogwash.

Before the late 1700’s artists were seen as artisans.  Michelangelo’s father was horrified that his son wanted to hack stone and daub colours.    Mozart had to eat in the servant’s hall.    Writers saw their work as a rational activity done to earn money/position/power/reputation.

It was the Romantic Poets who started the notion of the artist as the genius who can channel divine inspiration.   Who can see into the very depths of a man’s soul.   A tortured creature who is utterly dependent on divine inspiration.    It is a very romantic idea, and loads of writers and artists like to promote it.      But it is a peculiarly Western notion.

On the Indonesian island of Bali, everyone is an artist.   In one village everyone paints pictures, in another they dance, in another they carve stone, or make batik or carve wood or play music.    The people of Bali believe that, to live a balanced life, you should spend part of your day in meditation, part doing physical work, part doing something artistic and part relaxing  To them, being an artist is a normal part of living a harmonious life.

There are, of course, some writers and artists who are mad geniuses.   There are also mad genius doctors and diplomats, teachers, waiters, plumbers and layabouts.   But you don’t need to be mad to be creative, to be an artist o, to be a writer.   You just need the desire and the patience to learn the skills of your craft.   Anyone can learn to be competent, and if they have talent as well, they may become great.

The boring truth is that most writers live ordinary lives, paying the mortgage, raising their children and mowing the lawn like everyone else.

CREATIVITY INVOLVES A BROW-CLUTCHING AND A SOUL-SEARING STRUGGLE.

This is another notion inherited from the Romantics, which some artists like to promote.   The artist Louise Bourgeois lived in New York in her final years and even when she was in her nineties, hosted a regular salon where artists gathered to showed her their work.   I saw one of these sessions which was videoed for an Arts programme.   Each artist showed work, Louise had he say.   The one woman artist showed her an abstract painting.

“What is it about?” asked Louise.

“It’s about the deep pain of being an artist.” Replied the painter.

“Bullshit,” snapped Louise, “Being an artist is a privilege.   Next!”

Yes, creating is often hard work, and yes, you have to tap into your imagination but brow-clutching and angst are the least efficient way of doing it.    You have to learn trust your own creativity.   That takes practice.

IF I WERE A “REAL” WRITER THE WORDS WOULD FLOW.

I blame Hollywood.   You know the scene.   The writer is alone in his (it is usually his) room.   He puts a blank sheet of paper into his typewriter.   He types the title in capitals and his name underneath.   He sits back, he frowns, he gets stuck.    He paces the room.   He runs his hands through his hair.   He types a few words.   He reads them, snatches the paper out of the typewriter, crushes it into a ball and flings it into the waste-paper basket.   He smokes a furious cigarette and stubs it out viciously.  Repeat a few times.

Suddenly, inspiration strikes.   His face lights up.   He rushes to the typewriter and writes like fury.   He doesn’t eat, he doesn’t drink – well maybe a slug of scotch – and voilà, we see a shot of a title page on top of   a neat stack of paper.   It is the brilliant manuscript of the prize-winning article/novel/ film script.

If only!

Any writer I’ve ever met writes and re writes and re writes and re writes.     Some ideas do come in great spurts, the words flow and you write like fury. Times like that are a great, they’re what you live for but even these passages need careful editing.

Mostly though, you just have to sit and hack it out as best you can.    And, when you realise that the words that you’ve written are a million miles from the beautiful prose you had hoped to produce, you don’t give up in despair,  you rewrite.

These myths that you carry in your head will sneak upon you and they will slow you down.   They may even make you want to stop writing.     They call it writer’s block.   You’ll call it writer’s block.    But it’s just part of the process of writing. When that happens remind yourself that, before the Romantic poets, no one had ever heard of writer’s block.  And know that the two greatest dissolvers of writer’s block are very unromantic.   They are:

  1. A deadline and getting paid.
  2. Getting paid.

(c) Catherine Brophy

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About the author

Catherine Brophy is a writer, storyteller, broadcaster and workshop facilitator. She has written and published novels short stories and blogs by the cartload. She has written for T.V. and radio. She has given workshops, told stories and given readings her in Ireland of course but also in Britain, Germany, Netherlands Hungary, Poland and the U.S.

  • allianceindependentauthors.org
  • www.designforwriters.com

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