School was a shock. Where did all those children come from? Would I wet myself or brave those dark outdoor loos? As a timid child, and an obedient one, the structure of the classroom seemed easier to manage. And yet.
The teacher stood at the blackboard etching row upon row of noughts and crosses in coloured chalk. We sat at desks, copying the figures into our books with fat wax crayons. This was school? At home, colour meant drawing however the inspiration took me. Already programmed in compliance, I crushed my creativity along with my rage.
When we moved on, years later, to ‘real writing’, I found genuine pleasure in joining up the letters, word by word. The pride in progress from crayons to pencils to fountain pens, with interchangeable nibs. Green ink might not pass for schoolwork, but oh the joy of that squat glass bottle in my drawer at home. Thankfully education had become more liberal by then and, although we had to practice italics, we were never subjected to the mind-numbing drill of the copybook.
Irene Waters Times Past memoir prompt has got me thinking not only about learning to physically form my letters but, of course, learning to write publishable fiction. I wonder if, like the child reluctantly copying those sequences of noughts and crosses, a difficulty accepting I had to learn to do something I’d done for years might have impeded my development. Although I did courses here and there, I had no idea at the outset how much I had to learn. Perhaps if I had, I wouldn’t have tried!
Now, with two novels published and a short story collection on the way, I can more easily accept that I haven’t finished learning how to write, and perhaps never will. But I am in a position to identify my three most significant learning points, or milestones, on my journey so far:
- The difference between showing and telling (or, as Emma Darwin puts it, evoking and informing) and the relative merits of both.
- Trimming, pruning and cutting some more, so that every word counts.
- Weighing up feedback and criticism to strike a balance between rejecting advice because it feels uncomfortable versus losing track of one’s own judgement in a desperate attempt to please.
I’m sure there are other points I could mention but, for now, it’s over to you! What are your most important lessons in learning to write?
A request has gone out for 99-word stories about unicorns. I was tempted to recycle a contribution from the early days of Carrot Ranch – here’s one from June 2014 and the follow-up a week later – but when I thought of pairing it with this post, I went to an altogether different place. I hope it captures the spirit of the supportive community Charli has built at the Ranch.
Learning to draw
I’m rubbish at this. My horse looks more cow than anything, or wildebeest. Why am I even here?
It gets easier with practice, Miss Mills said. I take a deep breath, relax my shoulders and select a pencil with a sharpened point. Burnt umber: I haven’t used that yet. He might seem more equine with a bridle.
Before I’ve made a stroke, the teacher looms over me. My hand slips, etching a brown protrusion from the animal’s forehead. I hold my breath.
How lovely, she says. A unicorn!
Lovely? Something shifts in me. Maybe art class will be fun.