|Posted on November 27, 2010 at 9:51 AM|
For you to become a writer, you need to find a way to connect to language. Language needs to be your best friend. Find your love for language. Discover how words "flow", paint pictures with them, let them go wild, feel them, twist them. Put emotion in sentences. Play around with grammar. Change the order of the words to create a new angle. (Need a new angle? Change the order of the words!) (By changing the order of the words you can create a new angle.) (Ordering of words, that's what creates the angle to your words.)
How do you do that? Well, that's easy: write, write, and write some more. Quantity at first is what you're after. Once play time is over, you can start worrying about story, plot, character build-up, twists & turns.
Next, you have to sink deep in the language river. Once you're there, swimming comfortably in the words will get easier and easier.
I invited a master at language to write a guest blog and give his point of view and his experiences when it comes to the "craft" of writing: poet, and for this occassion guestblogger Frank Dullaghan:
Kurt- "What's your experience with language? How have you trained yourself to master the art of language, of words?"
Frank -My primary degree is in Economics so I didn’t come to language through an Eng Lit degree or the like (although I did obtain an MA in Writing much later). My first recognition of the power of words came from reading the Irish poets Yeats and Kavanagh in my mid teens. I was taken by the way they could take very simple words and make something that was incredible. I realised it was their ability to create sharp images that could be seen in the head, that did it. Of course, there is much more to it. But that’s where I started.
In terms of mastering the art of language, this came through reading – reading closely to see how the writer achieves his effects. I began to learn that each individual word is important. It’s too easy to use cliché and standard phrases – what I call ‘tired language’. It’s like the way a child will tell a story – this happened and then that happened and then this. You need language that is fresh, active, that shows rather than tells. You need to maintain the interest of the reader. You need to surprise and delight them. They must never want to put down your book. It’s more than the story, it’s about the language too.
Kurt- "What's your best advice for starting writers?"
Frank-I have three pieces of advice which I think are essential if you want to become a good writer:
1 Read the best writers, not the easy ones, and read them closely to see how they do it.
2 Seek out strong criticism – you will only improve if you are willing to give up your darlings and accept that improvement is needed. Never stop doing this.
3 Write, write, write – it does get better.
Kurt- "What are some of the problems you have encountered when writing, when playing with words and languages?"
Frank-I think we all have a store of favorite words, phrases, constructions etc which we tend to fall back on. I noticed this when I put my first collection together. So like everyone else, I struggle to renew and freshen the language. I find the best way of doing this is to push myself out of my comfort zone – like forcing myself to write formal poems, or using someone else’s vocabulary. It doesn’t necessarily produce a good piece but it can lead to improvements if you continually do this.
The other big problem we all encounter is the blank page. What is there to write about? The best thing here is to just start – look out the window and describe what you see, ask yourself creative questions about what you see – what sound does sunlight make? What colour is the flight of a bird? What would the lake say if it could talk? Write down your answers. It really doesn’t matter what you write. The thing is that you are writing and often in a way that is different. Something usually (and sometimes something unusual) comes. Of course, you then have to go back and delete all the rubbish that got you there.
Kurt "In your view, how different is writing poems versus writing a novel? Does it require a different skill?"
Frank-Well writing is writing, so you must have those skills to start with – an imagination, a facility with language, the ability to be accurate and particular. But after that, there is a significant difference. Novels and stories are more expansive, they have more space. Poems are small animals by comparison and you need to be careful about the words you feed them. Each word must earn its place. It must be the right word. It needs to be fresh, clear, and, sometimes, surprising. Imagery and metaphor, sound (music), repetition and pattern, become essential tools for the poet. Often the brevity will allow you to overthrow the normal rules of syntax and sentence structure – but this can only be done when you already understand the rules of good writing. Poets need to understand grammar and punctuation as well as novelists – perhaps even more so.
Kurt- "Can you cite one of your poems; one that reflects good writing"
Frank-Perhaps I could site a poem where I am happy with the way I use language and let others determine whether it reflects good language.
My poem Ordinance Survey Ireland 84 – West Cork is a poem that came from opening out a map and reading out the names of towns.
Place names can have such power:
Hungry Hill, Derryclancy, Coombane –
high names in her silent room,
The litany of names anchors the poem into a place (West Cork, Ireland) but also add music – the half rhymes between ‘bane’ ‘names’ and ‘room’; between ‘hungry’, ‘hill’ and ‘high’. The word ‘high’ adding importance to the place names as well as signifying that they are physically high – they are towns along the ridge of a mountain range. Then after all the music and noise of the names, the ‘her silent room’ is in a quieter register and so gives the feeling of silence.
The next two lines are:
his dinner cold on the table,
the clock slowly wiping its face –
These lines begin to set up the narrative of the poem – a woman whose husband does not come home. It does this with economy. The third line does it all. The image of the clock signifies that a lot of time has gone by, it uses language suggesting the finishing of a meal to strengthen the previous line, it gives a visual picture of the hands of the clock moving slowly, and is fresh, surprising and interesting. The overall result should be that the emotional empathy for the woman is built with very little words. This is what I mean about the power of words in poetry. They are all very ordinary words. It comes down to the way they are used and how they are placed on the page. This is a twenty line poem and these are just the first four lines. So you can see the amount of work, revision etc that must go into the making of a good poem. And, of course, the poem when finished must flow and not show any of the scars or bandages that resulted from this battle you have had with it.
I hope that this gives you a little insight into my working practice and the importance I place on language. Any old kind of writing won’t do. I’ve seen so many promising pieces of writing let down by insufficient focus on the words being used – a great story or a great image spoiled by the use of tired, lazy writing. It’s not easy. Which brings me to my final comment: all writing is about re-writing. You must revise. Over and over again!
Thank you Frank - quite inspiring stuff; as usual. Kurt
If you are interested in a copy of Frank's book, it can be purchased from my publisher. On the Back of the Wind, published by Cinnamon Press:
On the Back of the Wind by Frank Dullaghan
Frank Dullaghan’s quietly spoken poems move between tenderness and terror with a humane warmth. They deal with the business of the world as experienced by a fully human being. The language follows and embraces a wide range of affairs, touching on loved, known and dangerous things – the texture