Writing Secrets: Blackboard or printed page – they’re different jobs

 In Jo-Anne Richard's blog, Tips for Writers

Do you want to be a teacher … or a writer?

My advice would be that if you wish to teach, then become a teacher. A writer is a different fish altogether and the two do not happily swim in the same waters.

I gave this advice recently to a writer who consulted us on a piece of writing. His story was beautifully wrought, and built up to a satisfying peak of tension … only to fall away at the end. I suggested that perhaps his didactic intent was showing, and that this worked against the drama of the piece.

He agreed, but asked if this wasn’t what writing was intended to do. “Shouldn’t there always be a grand message? A moral that teaches us something about ourselves?”

I believe that good writing is an infinitely more subtle activity. Perhaps it’s because I believe that, as writers, we need humility. We have no exclusive access to the “truth”. We have no special dispensation to dispense it. In fact, we have no more answers than anyone else. All we have is a willingness to share our vulnerabilities and questing minds on the page.

Writing, I believe, should be a seeking to understand. It shouldn’t be our aim to grab our readers by the collar and ram what we believe to be the truth down their throats.

It’s my experience that, if you set out to impart a great truth, your writing is likely to appear clunky and strained.

Whatever you write about, it will (whether you like it or not) cause readers to weigh up what you show them, form their own impressions and come up with an interpretation. In other words it will, in the minds of your readers, say something about us, the way we live, love and perhaps die.

So let it go. It’s not something you have to worry about. Worry rather about whether you’re portraying your characters in a “true” and accurate way. Allow their choices and actions to build a story which will hold and drive us to follow and care about what they must face in their lives. That’s your job.

It’s the reader’s job to draw something from the characters you’ve introduced them to, and the way they behave. If you pre-empt them, if you hold a grand theme at the forefront of your mind, you’ll find yourself shoving your characters about the page to prove a point, rather than to be true to themselves.

It will no longer succeed as a work of art.

Read Richard’s latest blog: ‘Monday Motivation: Don’t rush the big, dramatic moments

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