Wednesday, 27 August 2008

Born to Write?


Some people, when they put pen to paper or sit themselves down at the keyboard, convey the impression that a high register and complex vocabulary make for good writing. Almost certainly you can't write 'good' and 'bad' for every single negative and positive. That much is true.

But personally, I've always felt that good writing was simple but colourful, words with a voice, elegant phrases. Never should the choice of adjective, noun or expression alienate the reader. I can't tell you the number of times I've put down a book, feeling I was somehow beneath the writer, and too stupid to be reading the book in question in the first place. Am I or is it just poor writing?

In his book Like the Flowing River, the international best-selling author and one of the giants of reflexive literature, Paolo Coelho, recalls his investigation at the age of 15 into what being a writer is. His young mind of then drew, amongst other things, these conclusions: 

  • that writers have interests in topics no one else does
  • that all writers are fans of James Joyce's Ulysseys
  • that all writers understand concepts that would scare others
  • that what they're reading at the moment is a book no one else has heard of
  • that writers express themselves in a complicated fashion
  • that writers impress women at dinners by stating their profession, then following it up by writing a poem on a napkin, which always works for them.

So I find myself now asking if writing was something I was meant to do or not. In terms of my interests, I'm a fairly regular guy: keep fit, literature, music and sport. And I've read Dubliners, but not Ulysseys, and would by no means consider myself a fan. As for concepts that would scare others, that's not my style: if it's too complex for me, I don't absorb it and I certainly don't discuss it with others! Complicated expression - I'd like to think I get to the point. Impressing women by writing a poem on a napkin; well, the romantic in me once wrote an invitation to dinner with me in my finest Italian to a girl with Italian blood. The outcome? - a request to explain what the invitation itself said, followed by a swift but polite and excruciating rejection. You were saying, Mr Coelho?

I look back on that last incident and remember it with a smile! Maybe that idealism, that romanticism suggests a potential of sorts. My own style is based on my own theory, but is it the right one? Does it have colour? Does it have a voice? And is it one you want to keep on hearing? Or just background music in print?

How I need to know.


  1. Hello!

    I'm a big fan of Paulo Coelho! You will love this! He's the first best-selling
    author to be distributing for free his works on his blog:

    Have a nice day!


  2. Hi Aart!

    Many thanks for your well wishes and for pointing me towards the website. I'm glad you enjoyed this post, and my apologies for not writing sooner.

  3. I'm a fan of Coelho too. Writers can be complicated or simple: either way sutis me. Getting your mind around something complex is fun and stimulating. "Simple" writing is difficult and often poetically wonderful (I'm thinking of "Out of Africa").