“NOW, what I want is, Facts. Teach these boys and girls nothing but Facts. Facts alone are wanted in life. Plant nothing else, and root out everything else. You can only form the minds of reasoning animals upon Facts: nothing else will ever be of any service to them." --Charles Dickens, Hard Times.
When Charles Dickens wrote this quote in 1853, he was reflecting and critiquing the industrial revolution and its soul-less privileging of utility and science. However, it might be possible to argue that this quote is telling of our own times, our own privileging of science, facts and logic. So is it true that facts are the only form of knowledge that will "service" the reader?
Charles Dickens would argue "no!" While his character, Mr. Gradgrind, expounds the importance of facts, he approaches Sissy, "Girl number twenty," whose father tends to the horses in a circus, and asks her to define a horse. Gradgrind rebukes Sissy for her inability to define a horse. However, Bitzer, Sissy's classmate, manages to provide a scientific definition: "Quadruped. Graminivorous. Forty teeth, namely twenty-four grinders, four eye-teeth, and twelve incisive. Sheds coat in the spring; in marshy countries, sheds hoofs, too. Hoofs hard, but requiring to be shod with iron. Age known by marks in mouth."
While Gradgrind seems happy with this definition, the reader is ironically aware that facts, in and of themselves, are not enough. Facts, which may or may not speak to a utilitarian or scientific perspective, do not provide an image that the reader can relate to. The facts, in other words, do not speak to the essence of the horse. A definition that allows the reader to see, feel, and understand the horse--not by the number of its teeth but by its strength, power, courage and beauty--is one that the reader can relate to.
Good writing, then, is not so much concerned with facts, as accurate as they may be, as it is with
fancy and fiction. Likewise, a good writer remembers that he or she is not only a "reasoning animal," but also, and maybe more importantly, a complex feeling, relational and creative being. Good writers don't only give the facts, telling us how it is, they show us how it is. In other words, they use description, examples, evidence, comparison and detail so that we not only know intellectually what they are trying to say, but that we see it and feel it too. Dickens' factual definition (as in the one of the horse), reveals, ironically, that facts are only a small part and by no means the main part of a story.
So you have decided you want to be a creative writer? You feel you have a book in you or you want to writer your family's story? Maybe you need a forum to voice your ideas or concerns to an audience that can reflect on your words and care about what you have to say?
You have good ideas, a good story? But you are feeling anxious about going in the wrong direction, about not getting it right? Maybe you feel you are not good enough?
So what do you do now? Relax and write! If it is any comfort, all writers have to begin somewhere and most experienced writers are also nervous when they begin a new project. The difference between experienced an inexperienced writers though is that experienced writers realise that whatever they write, it will be a first draft and that first draft does not have to be perfect. So here are some tips for getting started:
1. Figure out how you work. No two writers are exactly the same and there is no one process that works for every writer.
2. Try to set up a routine. Be practical about this. Don't set yourself up by failure by planning on writing six hours a day when you know this is not possible. Also, if possible be aware of what time of day works best for you. Kurt Vonnegut, for example, starts writing at 5.30am and finishes at 10.00am each morning.
3. Know that you don't have to begin at the beginning. John Irving starts a novel by writing the last sentence first. This helps him figure out an outline of the book and what needs to go in the first chapter.
4. Don't feel that you have to use an outline. Some people use elaborate plot outlines that dictate every action while others use only scratch outlines or none at all.
5. Be strategic and use your time well. If you can't sit at a desk all day, write short scenes, dialogue, or character profiles.
6. Don't throw anything out but be open to changing and revising what you have.
7. Last but not least, do not worry about grammar. You can fix that up in your last revision. Paying attention to grammatical errors will bog you down in details when you need to focus on the story.
This is a blog about writing and the writing life, which necessarily involves reading. In it, I will comment on my own writing process and others, and provide information and writing tips. Writing is a solitary occupation and it is my hope that this blog will create community for people of like minds. For now, one of my favourite quotes:
"You can make anything by writing"
--C. S. Lewis
Know it; love it!