Sunday, 5 June 2011

Why the writing never stops

It was Maurice Blanchot who stated that 'the writer never knows if the work is done' in fact '...the work of art the literary work - is neither finished nor unfinished: it is.' How right he was. When I handed in my novel for my PhD, I loved it and was very happy with the way it had turned out. That was a couple of months ago and this week I went back to it, just to have a read through again before my viva. That was a mistake. I kept finding things that I want to change, whole sections I want to rewrite. How can I like something and be happy with it one moment and feel it is not good enough in the next. At the moment there is nothing I can do about it, other than accept 'it is'.

It made me realise that maybe that is a writer's lot. You spend your life wanting to change anything you have written. It is never finished. It could always be tweaked just one more time. This is not restricted to fictional writing though, it is just as applicable to any academic writing you do. Indeed, any writing - even your shopping list. Face the fact your life as a writer is going to be one long rewrite and edit!

This is a piece called La Serenisssima by Loreena McKennitt. It was given to me by a friend who said it was great to write to...I might do some re-writing to it!


  1. This made me think of a character Nick is always telling me about - Joseph Grand in The Plague by Albert Camus, who never gets beyond the first sentence of the book he is trying to write. He can never reach perfection, so he never gets any further than that one line. Books are like full stops for an author - an end point to a creative moment. And the more creative moments an author has, hopefully the better the next one becomes. Look at Pullman - a truly great writer, yet one who doesn't like to acknowledge his very earliest work. I totally get how you feel but as someone who hasn't actually managed to complete my novel yet I just wanted to remind you that doing so is such a huge achievement in its own right. And it is also a platform to create something even better - though that is not to say that what you have written isn't already good or even great (must get on and read it & tell you!). You can't achieve in your first novel what you can achieve with your 20th - or at least I don't think so. It is a strange thing, the written word & how concrete it is. I guess stories are a bit like butterflies - once you pin them down on a page you can see so much of its beauty, but it will never quite match the glorious beauty of a butterfly freely in flight - just as our written version will quite match up to the story in our head. That is because we are translating it from our imagination - always a so much more skilled than the part of the brain able to distill it into words! Be proud that you have achieved a full stop. Be proud that you have put something into the world - a translation of your own amazing thoughts - that other people can absorb and enjoy. And be proud that your hard work has provided you with a learning experience that you can use to be an even better writer than you are now. And you are already a very good writer - something most people who want to write never even achieve.

  2. Thank you Jen for such faith in my not sure I share the same thoughts but then does any writer about their own work?

    I love the idea of stories being butterflies.

    See you on the 25th my friend xx