Tag Archives: fiction

Why do you write? Understanding purpose.

Why do you write?

As a form of self-expression, an aide-memoire, to forge a possible career, to expose a wrong, to make money, because it’s fun, to try and leave a mark: ‘I was here’? Or perhaps to engage with the imaginations of others, to explore a central question about what it is to be human, to make others laugh, to meditate or self-analyze, to tell a really good story in order to entertain yourself in the making and hopefully others in the telling, you do it for fame? Or do you write to change the world, to save a life or community, to right a wrong, to ignite a campaign? Or is it simply a compulsion you can’t control, a question you need to answer, a private practice you share with no-one, an art form you wish to master, or a pleasurable means of passing time? Is it an ambition to achieve, an impulse to create, a desire to be ‘heard’, a business to forge? Is the reason you write a mixture of some of the above, or more likely, one I haven’t listed?

Knowing why we write (or create) is central to the practice, and often overlooked. Whether writing is a means to give thanks, or to remember, or to be economically independent, understanding the reason why we write – our purpose – is important and can lead to a more satisfying and successful output – (that’s ‘success’ defined in your own terms).

It’s a question I often ask participants at the start of a course, and one that saves time and energy in the long term. When we know the purpose for doing something, there is a clarity and understanding that can impact on the process. If someone in truth wants to be a bestselling romantic novelist, perhaps attending an experimental post-dramatic playwriting module isn’t immediately the best use of their time. If someone writes in the desire to reach an audience and to achieve a long-held ambition of being published, perhaps it’s time to send some of the poems out to publishers and accept writing is more than a private means of self-expression (this also works the other way). If writing is a means of personal growth, we can enjoy it more without the pressures of feeling we ‘ought’ to try and get published, or give a reading, or have a production. Being clear about the reason why you are writing is a way of being clear and truthful with yourself. It may sound obvious, but so many of us write and create in a fog. In my teaching and writing experience I’ve found we seldom ask ourselves what it is we like to read, what is it we want to write, what kind of writer we want to be, what our relationship is to our creativity….? Understanding this can effect the direction we take in future projects, saving energy and increasing our productive outcome. So go on and ask yourself these questions…

  • What kind of work do you enjoy reading/consuming?
  • Why do you write (or create, make, etc)?
  • What do you in truth hope to achieve?
  • What is standing in the way of you achieving the above?
  • What could you do to get closer to achieving this?
  • What kind of writing/making do you enjoy doing most?
  • Define ‘success’ in your own terms…..

There isn’t a template we all need to follow. There isn’t one career trajectory, just as there isn’t one reason why any of us write, or make, or create. I find the reason(s) for writing changes project to project and the knowledge of this shift encourages me to keep asking these questions, for the process and my connection to what I’m doing will therefore also change.

But understanding why we write or create allows some self-knowledge and this can lead to an adjustment in the direction we are taking, or inspire a new commitment to the practice, a freshness to our work and our relationship with it.  There are always benefits from increased wisdom.

Grant Snider’s The Story Coaster


Back story and narrative structure and ‘the hero’s journey’ have become so ubiquitous even the failed contestants on  The X Factor speak fluently about ‘their journey so far…’

So in the midst of my jadedness about what has now become mainstream cliches, I came across this wonderful image by Grant Snider and wanted to share…

Do have a look at http://www.incidentalcomics.com/2013/07/the-story-coaster.html

With thanks to Grant Snider and Sunday New York Times Book Review, where this drawing first appeared on 14 July 2013.

All: enjoy!

Art champions doubt

‘…Truth is a shifting state. To doubt is to celebrate a truth’s amorphous character, to test, push, and pick at its flexible boundaries, embracing uncertainty and enriching perception. Doesn’t uncertainty lie at the very heart of our human experience? To be doubtful is to strive to understand ourselves, and in turn, the world more fully. To doubt is to welcome possibility, Art champions doubt, while truth relies on belief.’

 Catherine Roche, Wales-based artist, writer and lecturer.

In Sandy Island, catalogue to Tjibbe Hooghiemstra’s art exhibition.

I have often been advised not to doubt: ‘Don’t doubt the work; don’t doubt yourself; don’t doubt your commitment in taking this creative path.’ Writers (and no doubt other makers and practitioners) so often see doubt as a negative stance, one that erodes the integrity of our work, our ‘voice’ or vision, even the choices we have made in our lives. How refreshing, then, to find these words of Catherine Roche in the catalogue of Tjibbe Hooghiemstra’s Sandy Island. ‘To doubt is to welcome possibility.’

I first met artist Tjibbe Hooghiemstra in Annamakerrig, Ireland, at the Tyrone Guthrie Centre in the early 1990’s. I was on a short writer’s residency having just returned from eighteen months in Amsterdam, where I’d been helping run a small theatre company in the old Jordaan quarter, our rehearsals punctuated by the chimes of Westerkirk and the tourists’ voices heading for the Anne Frank Haus. Rural Monaghan was a very different prospect after the frau-haus squat I’d been living in on the Singel opposite the floating flower market, and it was a joy to connect again with a Dutchman, especially one as talented and engaged as Tjibbe.

His latest exhibition explores Sandy island, ‘the island that was never found.’

This is a work of the imagination I feel I understand, for as a playwright this is something I am constantly involved in, creating land that does not exist – the world of a play, its rules, inhabitants, different atmospheres, logic, outcomes…

Catherine Roche’s words also resonate about my creative impulse and intentions behind some of the work I make. Often I embark on a project to learn more about a subject, or its possibilities in the human sphere, so I may understand more the potential of the world I live in. If this sounds esoteric or high-minded, it’s not intentional, merely a clumsy attempt to put words to why I do what I do. It isn’t for fame and certainly not for money (as a playwright I chose the wrong medium for financial remuneration…). It is out of curiosity, or a desire to experiment, to question and explore ‘what if…’ I often set myself a question, or a problem to tackle – and then off I go into the unknown territory, perhaps like Tjibbe or any other creative, making up the land I stand on as I go along.

Tjibbe Hooghiemstra’s Sandy Island art exhibition:

Oriel Q, Queen’s Hall Gallery, Narbeth, Wales. 11/01/14 – 15/02/14

Galerie @ Kroninklijke Villa, Oostende, Belgium.  31/08/4 – 03/10/14

Galerie Hoogenbosch, Gorredijk, The Netherlands.  12/10/14 – 16/11/14

Hillsboro Fine Art, Dublin, Ireland. 15/01/15 – 14/02/15



starting to write…research, creating materials and scratching out the territory

It’s that exciting time – researching, imagining the territory, scratching out the first traces of what may develop into a character’s voice, journey, temperament, discoveries… I’m starting out on a new play, creating the anarchic, formless, sprawling mosaic of half-monologues, author’s questions and asides, indications of dynamic and interaction in snatches of dialogue, hastily written notes about place and action which eventually come together to create an image of the world of the play…

As a playwright, I’m not a planner. I know all the tricks and approaches, the theories and proposed practices. I’ve read the books, been to the seminars, taken and led the workshops. I know how it’s done and am known for my skills with dramaturgy and structure, yet my own process at the start of a new play is deliberately chaotic and to a planner’s eye, undisciplined. I give myself free rein to follow any wild association that pings in my head, to research in unlikely places so long as there is a chord resounding in me, to scrawl pages of notes and questions and one liners and ‘what ifs’ and scratching outs and a) b) c) d) versions of what may happen and whose emerging voice it may be and what this might really be about…

I read widely and eclectically – a medieval Welsh myth in translation, a misery memoir on abduction and a Victorian botanical primer (with delicious, delicate hand-painted illustrative plates) in the past four days alone. I’ve read about stamens and ovules; the flora and fauna of the New Forest; an American Survivalist’s blog on going off-grid and an Austrian’s guide for surviving trauma. I’ve seasoned this with playlists of new-to-me musicians and composers selected by my nephews and images from photographers’ blogs on remote places and abandoned buildings.

I’m immersing myself in whatever snags my interest or resonates for the perceived journey ahead. I’m not being selective or critical. I’m dipping in like a swift tips the surface of a lake, sampling, trying, flying on, keeping moving. I’ve learnt how seductive research can be. I know how it can engross you, consume you, and become either yet another form of procrastination, preventing you from getting down to the job in hand – writing – or it can weigh you and the project down, words research-heavy, too dense to soar.

I carry my diverse and immersive research lightly, although I abandon myself to its pleasures for a short time. This I think is where experience comes in – knowing when to stop both the task at hand and the whole process itself. It is also important to learn how to notate, to skim off what is of interest and potentially of use to your project, keeping always a little distance from what you are engaged in, however addictive. It is also essential to capture the thoughts that flit across your imagination before they dissipate in the air.

Have always a notebook or computer nearby. Don’t con yourself. You will not remember. Jot it down, and now, and see if the thought can be expressed in the character’s voice – the character not yet invented, nevermind realised – this is our paradoxical task but one which can’t be avoided or put off. Send away any inner critic and don’t worry how and what you write so long as you let the impulse flow through you and into the pen/keys; shake yourself out of research pleasure, which ironically often manifests in idleness. Try shaping into scrawled notes that shapeless thought clouding your mind. Get it down and keep moving – you can come look at it again, later. Travel fast, travel with curiosity and an open mind, travel well.

More on my process of starting to write will follow….


Start now.

Start now. Start from where you are. Don’t wait for the muse, or the magical moment, or the light shining on the lake viewed from the perfect writing spot you’ve never looked for but just know it’s out there and when found (although you don’t look) will make everything fall into place and the words onto the page or screen. Start now. Don’t wait for a new book or computer or pen which will make the work effortless. The work is hard, always is, always has been, always will be, although there may be those few moments when  the components line up like the mechanism in a chiming clock and the words are precise and striking: a state of grace, to be savoured. But mainly work will be filled will struggle and frustration and disappointments where there is never enough time or quiet or space to formulate ideas, never mind actualise them. And despite the rejections and the occasional sense of failure, we must keep on, for this is what we were made to do – to write, to express, to create, to imagine, to communicate, to think, to explore, to elucidate, to embody. And never forget how fortunate we are to be doing what we do.

It’s New Year and that time for new beginnings or encouraging words. Here’s more from Debbie Millman:

I recommend the following course of action form those who are just beginning their careers or for those like me who may be midway through: heed the words of Robert Frost. Start with a big fat lump in your throat. Start with a profound sense of wrong, a deep homesickness, or a crazy love sickness and run with it. If you imagine less, less is what you undoubtedly deserve. Do what you love and don’t stop until you get what you love. Work as hard as you can, imagine immensities, don’t compromise, and don’t waste time. Start now. Not 20 years from now, not two weeks from now. Now.

Look Both Ways: Illustrated Essays on the Intersection of Life and Design. Debbie Millman. Quoted on http://www.brainpickings.org

Happy new year and courage, energy and fortitude to all…..

On Writing….. David Rhodes

‘I’ve been writing since about the age of fourteen. Somewhere around that time I discovered that herding words into stories often gave rise to strangely satisfying states of mind – agitated, but satisfying. Maybe I was a little like a herding dog. That first glimpse of a pasture with bunched-together sheep had a different effect upon me than, say, a companion dog that looks at the same pasture and thinks ‘Sheep, who cares?’ As individuals we seek out activities we can lose ourselves in, and those activities, paradoxically, reveal things we couldn’t otherwise know about ourselves.’   David Rhodes. Writer of ‘Driftless’

As a farmer’s daughter, the herding metaphor about writing was very attractive and held some resonance….

I’m in the wintry midwest of America and recently discovered this extraordinary Wisconsin writer, publishing his first book in three decades, following a motorcycle accident when he became physcially disabled.

You can read ‘Driftless’, David Rhodes’ first book in thirty years at:http://www.amazon.com/Driftless-David-Rhodes/dp/1571310681/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1388082386&sr=1-1&keywords=driftless+by+david+rhodes

20 Questions… Clare George.

Continuing my series of questions about creativity and process with writers, choreographers, poets, directors, sculptors, theatre practitioners, novelists, burlesque performers and other artists…. Novelist Clare George takes the helm. I first met Clare in Exeter some years ago when she was writer in residence, co-ordinating a large project supporting and guiding writers. I’m delighted to introduce her response to 20 Questions…

Clare George

Clare George

Clare George is the author of two novels, The Cloud Chamber (Sceptre, 2003) and The Evangelist (Sceptre, 2005). Having completed a Masters in Creative Writing at University of East Anglia, she had a short story, Snapshot, broadcast on Radio 4 in 2006. She taught creative writing at City University London from 2007 to 2009, and was Writer in Residence at Exeter University from 2009 to 2011, where she led an outreach programme for writers across the South West exploring visions of the future. She is currently working on a third novel.

What first drew you to your particular practice (art/acting/writing, etc)?

–       When I was a pre-schooler we lived in a small village where a library van visited once a week. It was the most magical place. The first story I remember making up, long before I was able to write it down, was about a girl who went into the library van and opened the most beautiful and exciting book in the world. It came to life around her. That’s still why I write.

What was your big breakthrough?

–       Getting an agent. The first book I sent her wasn’t published, and neither was the next one, but the third was, and the fourth, and she’s still my agent now.

What is the most challenging aspect of your work/process?

–       Starting a novel. So much material is needed, and it takes so many false starts: in the case of my most recent novel, Things I’ll Never Tell You, about twelve years’ worth.

Is there a piece of art, or a book, or a play, which changed you?

–       Go Dog Go by P D Eastman, which was my favourite book in that library van. 

41YMQHTM4SL._SY445_What’s more important: form or content?

–       Content is everything. Form is everything. The best times writing are when they stretch one another. But in fiction there’s also story, which crosses the boundary between the two and is more mysterious than either. A story that gives and denies, enlarging our wants and our expectations, is a devastating thing.

How do you know when a project is finished?

–       At the point when my improvements start making it worse.

Do you read your reviews?

–       Damn, yes! I think the writer who doesn’t read his/her reviews is an admirable creature from a slightly different species to my own.

 What advice would you give a young writer/practitioner?

–       Read, read, read, read, read. But only for fun. And get out more.

What work of art would you most like to own?

–       Newton by Eduardo Paolozzi, outside the British Library. Luckily, I do own it, sort of.

What’s the biggest myth about writing/the creative process?

–       The attitudes I most dislike are the exclusive ones, such as that a writer needs to be a particular type of person, or that ‘literary’ works are intrinsically superior to those written within a genre.

4108H0N4KYL._SY445_What are you working on now? 

–       I’m trying to get started on a novel about a telepath. It started out as an exercise I set myself in using free indirect style after writing the last two novels in the first person, and has gone on to become an exploration of how dysfunctional it is to be constantly trying to examine people from the inside, which I find can get in the way of actual living.


What is the piece of art/novel/collection/ you wish you’d created?

–       Ode to the West Wind, by Percy Bysshe Shelley. I’m a Romantic.

What do you wish you’d known when you were starting out?

–       I wish I’d had a Kindle, so that I didn’t have to be confined to British tastes in books. I got reader’s block for a long time.

What’s your greatest ambition?

–       To become a better writer and enjoy myself while trying.

How do you tackle lack of confidence, doubt, or insecurity?

–       I think patience is the answer. I’m not very patient.

What is the worst thing anyone said/wrote about your work?

–       People are entitled to their own opinions. But one review of The Evangelist pointed out that I’d used the wrong terminology when my narrator talked about someone ‘getting a hat trick’ instead of ‘taking a hat trick’ (or the other way around). Getting it wrong was a betrayal of my cricket-loving narrator.

And the best thing?

–       A review of The Evangelist in The Independent on Sunday: ‘Few authors possess a grain of Clare George’s intelligence, even fewer manage to splice a regularly amusing, often moving narrative with ideas of the range exhibited here.’ I quote it whenever possible. Especially on the school run.

If you were to create a conceit or metaphor about the creative process, what would it be?

–       It’s like drugs. The side-effects are horrible but the highs are irresistible. You can give up but you will never be free.

What is your philosophy or life motto?

–       Try really hard. Try not to try so hard.

What is the single most important thing you’ve learned about the creative life?

–       I’m not sure there’s much of a distinction between the creative life and other types of life. I find that I have at least as much in common with those pursuing other disciplines for their own sake, such as science or sport or even business.

What is the answer to the question I should have – but didn’t – ask?

–       What is actually happening to our brains when we consume stories? I don’t have the answer, but it would be great if there was someone out there working on it because I WANT TO KNOW.

Further information about Clare and her books at:

Anne Lamott on writing…..



In general…there’s no point in writing hopeless novels. We all know we’re going to die; what’s important is the kind of men and women we are in the face of this.

-Anne Lamott

A wonderful quotation to focus the mind….

Hemingway’s best intellectual training for a would-be writer


What would you consider the best intellectual training for the would-be writer?


Let’s say that he should go out and hang himself because he finds that writing well is impossibly difficult. Then he should be cut down without mercy and forced by his own self to write as well as he can for the rest of his life. At least he will have the story of the hanging to commence with.


I’m grateful to the nef errant for this writing tip…

On Writing…


“Words should be looked through, should be windows.

The best words are invisible.”

Robert Francis


I’m grateful to my friend the poet Chris Kinsey for this wonderful provocation about writing, words, their impact, and the challenge of the skill required to be effective.