Wednesday, 9 September 2009

Mutes & Earthquakes (& well-timed advice)

Nice timing: After Monday's post about my lecturer's writing advice, I stumbled across this essay about writing by New Zealand writer and tutor Bill Manhire, in the introduction to Mutes & Earthquakes:

Voice shouldn't be confused with originality, another of those big ideas like inspiration and sincerity. We all learn to speak by mimicking the adult figures around us. We hear a noise and copy it....When we grow up we can hear our parents inside the sounds we make, and yet we are still ourselves - distinctive, and distinctively different from the voices which shaped us. The writing voice is like this, too.

This is why imitation can be very useful for a writer. You find your way to your voice by being influenced, by copying. The twelve-year-old Frank Sargeson started copying out Sir Walter Scott's Ivanhoe into an exercise book, which is going a bit far; but the idea has a strange sort of merit. Poets, especially, can be silly about this. I have met plenty who declare that they never read other poets: their own pure, original voice might somehow be contaminated. People who talk like that aren't writers. They simply like the idea of calling themselves writers....I don't imagine there are many aspiring screen writers who decide not to go to films on the grounds that the experience may destroy their art. The only person who will never become a writer is the one who doesn't read. Concert pianists listen to music. Great chefs like to eat.

So I encourage people to read widely.

I rest my case.

Manhire also quoted an unrelated but equally cool saying from writer Flannery O'Connor:

Discussing story-writing in terms of plot, character, and theme is like trying to describe the expression on a face by saying where the eyes, nose, and mouth are.

1 comment:

Esme said...

Ruth thanks for stopping by-yes you get four entries. This is the first time that I have had a visitor from NZ-it is an interesting story -have you read M. George's Cleopatra? If not it was great. Moran's other books are fantastic.

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