Monday Writing Motivation: A Mystery Wrapped in an Enigma

 In How to write a book, Monday Motivation, Richard Beynon's blog

All writers are readers – and everything we read makes a difference, sometimes so subtle as to be undetectable, to our writing. I know that when I want to write something in the style of, say, Hemingway; or at least, when I want to borrow Hemingway’s laconic and easy assurance; then there’s no better preparation than to read one of his novels.

Someone on our mentorship programme is writing a novel set in the eighteenth century. So what better route into the sensibilities of her characters than to read as many eighteenth-century novels she can lay her hand on? More specifically, one of her characters tries her hand at writing romances – and so she has turned to the lady authors of the eighteenth century for guidance. Authors like Charlotte Smith and Elizabeth Carter, Charlotte Lennox and the indefatigable Fanny Burney. (Those were the days in which novels ran to five volumes.)

But look more closely for a moment at the influence of a less deliberate reading. How certain words and phrases snag on some protruding dendrite… I know that exotic words have that effect on me, and I collect them assiduously. Words like adytum and sesquipedalian…

These are the things we notice. But what about the thousands of linguistic experiences we have that happen below the threshold of consciousness? Just as I always have a certain visceral response to a particular disinfectant whose smell catapults me back to my experience of hospital as a child, so certain words will carry connotations established by incidents and events long forgotten.

Monday Writing Motivation: A Mystery Wrapped in an Enigma

Perhaps it’s because of these associations that writing is so therapeutic since it employs words that are weighted not just by their dictionary meanings, but by the infinite and subtle variety of very personal subtextual undertones.

Can we deliberately put this insight to use in our writing? Perhaps not. It’s difficult to use something that you don’t understand.

But I suppose the mere appreciation of this extra dimension of meaning could help each of us to sense those ripples in psychological space-time set off by words and their arrangements.

I remember once writing an essay for my philosophy lecturer in which I argued myself all the way from A to F and back again to A. It seemed to have been a futile exercise – but I got top marks for my logic.

I seem to have done more or less than now, anatomising what is, after all, a fairly commonplace observation – words have private as well as public meanings – and ending up with as much of a mystery as I began.

No matter. It’s the journey that counts, right?

Happy writing,


P.S. I am deeply grateful to all of you who donated to the Level Water charity. The swim took place over the weekend – and I’ll find something in it of interest to writers for next week’s Monday Writers Motivation. In the meantime, let me reiterate my call to those of you who haven’t yet donated anything to consider doing so now. Remember, it doesn’t matter how little you give, collectively you can make a huge difference to the lives of disabled children. Here’s the link again.

At All About Writing, we are committed to helping writers grow and hone their craft. If you’re not sure where to start, check out our free writing resources for writers. 

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