April 20, 2017 @ 12:54 PM

Seven sensible steps to success as a writer

Step 3 (continued): Using your own voice

The most important lesson to emerge from any exercise at reworking a passage from a favourite author, is the realisation that you must do so using your own voice. Your own words. Your own similes. Your own interpretation of the essential idea. Mere copying is pointless for any serious writer.

To be sure there are few original ideas in literature (though they seem to occur quite regularly in contemporary science). What matters is the form, content and expression of the thought – which is what makes it particular to each individual author. As it is, of course, the basis of the copyright laws.

It's also true, as I said earlier, that everything in art, as in science, is built upon what's gone before. And so it is that writers need to read widely ... to discover those masters who truly speak to the self, and from whom one can learn techniques of how to express your own views of the world and humanity on the page. To discover, in short, how words best work for you.

It may be the stream of consciousness of James Joyce's 'Ulysses'. The mannered, rather self-conscious sentences of Patrick White which for me, at least, convey an essence of my own country...

The subtlety and nuance of Jane Austen's words that go to the heart of the human tragi-comedy, or Shakespeare's universal metaphor...

We can learn from them all. Sentences of one word – or the many thousands of Molly Bloom's unpunctuated soliloquy.

It makes no difference. So long as the foundation, the structure and expression of the writing are true to yourself and to the subject.


Next time. Step 4: Research your topic...

Photo: Jane Austen: 19th century coloured engraving, Wikimedia Commons