TIGHT CORNERS

When you start to blog, you are advised to write regularly and reliably. So you undertake to write daily or weekly etc and you produce the articles as promised. It is by no means easy to maintain this.

You want to write meaningful, thought-provoking, topical blogs. You hope your writing is stylish and well crafted and you variously want your blogs to be witty, amusing, moving, provocative. Some lucky months you may be ahead by 5 or 6 written blogs, and all you have to do as the publication deadline approaches is select the one of your choice. But at other times you get bored with yourself and you find the deadline looming and you have nothing to say.

No political issue of the day engages your heart. (For example, I’m going to vote to remain in the EU, but I couldn’t say I felt passionately about it. I just think it’s probably better and besides you’re guessing in the dark for there’s precious few facts and what is touted you neither trust nor believe.) Nothing in the least funny has happened in the previous week. You can’t seem to dredge up any memory you can describe or expand upon. You don’t feel up to the mental effort of conjuring an entertaining piece from a start of: it rained the entire week and absolutely nothing happened except that I attempted a new recipe for casseroled chicken which wasn’t a success.

You wonder if you’re all written out and should retire from the field.

But the next week you observe some oddity that amuses you; or someone riles you; or something touches you, and, as they say, Bob’s your uncle.

When it flows easily, it’s fun. Yet some of your best pieces are produced from the tightest corners.

 

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WRITING STYLE

My cousin, Sheena, herself a writer, was talking to me recently about writing ‘style’ and I had to admit that it was a subject I had barely considered.

I have always found the written word easy to produce (and to assimilate) and I often prefer to communicate in writing rather than in a personal interview.   If what you’re going to say is  difficult or complex, you have time to consider it carefully and lay it out thoughtfully.   You cannot be interrupted during the process nor do you have to deal with the other person’s emotional responses.   They in their turn have time to think over their reaction and response.   And if the subject were a major or significant issue, you would of course in your written communication, offer to see them in person if they wished.

It would appear to anyone watching me that I sit down to my machine (or take up my notebook) and write immediately and at length with neither hesitation nor preparation.  This is not true.   I will probably have ‘written’ the piece several times in my head, reshaping it, deciding on the ending (which is much easier than the beginning), trying out and discarding phrases.   So when it comes to the actual writing, I’ve already ‘written’ several drafts.   At this stage, I rarely rewrite and what I put down largely stands.   I sometimes shuffle the sentences.   When the piece is completely written, I may check if certain things are accurate and whether my conclusion is fair.    Occasionally I pass the article in front of John.   He rarely alters more than a word or two and he has never said, don’t publish it;  if he did then probably I wouldn’t.  He never makes any comment on my writing style.

And yet writing style is as distinctive as walking, is it not?   We can identify the footstep of those we love out of thousands of steps, yet it would be very difficult to describe how we pick it out.   John’s step is fast, long and surprisingly light, yet that description which is the best I can give would in no way help others to recognise it.    Yet I can identify his coming from afar off, the sound of his step leaping out at me from the background cacophony, even when I am not listening for it.    No-one else’s step, not even those of his sons, sounds like it.

Nowadays in our communications, we’ve mostly lost the intimate give away of the actual handwriting from which conclusions about the personality, education, age, emotional state and physical well being of the writer can all be drawn.     (Mind you, erroneous conclusions can be reached as when the foolhardy Mrs Beck had her latest au pair’s (me!) handwriting analysed and was reassured to learn that she was capable, honest and reliable – which I hope was true – but was not informed that she was of an independent nature, not inclined to do what she was told, not easily impressed and deeply resentful of invasions of privacy, and not especially anxious to please.    I wonder if the analyst saw that and held her tongue, or whether she was just a charlatan and said what her client wished to hear?   Once Mrs Beck told me she had had my handwriting analysed, although I made no comment, our relationship was doomed.   This happened as we drove out of the airport.)

Yet even the typed word has a certain style.   Over the winter, Sheena sent me a long email while she was ill and had a high temperature.   Although her comments were perfectly lucid, they conveyed that fevered, glittering, restless, burning up element of a fever, and I became quite concerned about her.   (She is fine now.)

I would guess, if a writer thought too much about style, he or she would become stilted or over-worked.   Personally I find if you lose a piece of writing (the wretched computer can have its downside), you can never reproduce it quite so well again.   The original has its own freshness and style that can never be recaptured.

Although obviously it’s part of the tools of a writer to have an extensive vocabulary, I find it extremely irritating when people use an obscure or long word when a more common word would express the concept perfectly accurately.   The point of writing is to convey an idea;  to mount an argument;  to persuade to a point of view;  to point something out, and that should hopefully be done in such a way that the reader both grasps the point easily, and gets pleasure in the process.   It shouldn’t, ever, be about displaying how clever you are.   Writers have a lamentable tendency to this weakness;  some quite  distinguished writers suffering from this difficulty.   In my view, in the case of the late Ian Banks, it was forgivable;  in Ian McEwan it is (just about) tolerable; and in Jeanette Winterston it is unbearable, in part because she frequently uses the rare word incorrectly.

Speaking for myself (and this is regarded as a great fault by people advising you how to sell a written work), I don’t really think about the reader at all.   I assume he or she is educated and intelligent, and if interested in the subject will consider it and come to their own conclusion.   I am frequently surprised by other people’s reactions, and I never have the slightest idea which blogs will arouse alot of interest and which will not.

So now I think I’ve said all I have to say on this subject, and I’ll do what I invariably do, and which is also regarded as a grievous fault by certain people.   I’ll come to a conclusion.   (What’s the point in writing if you don’t come to a conclusion?)

Style is good if you have it, but its substance that counts.