The Art of Writing - Both Creativity and Craftsmanship are Mandatory
I began to see myself as a writer in my early thirties.
Being a creative writer is a 'pipe dream' unless you also learn the craft of writing.
Books that helped me become a writer and a little advice as to how you can become one, too.
Hidden around a corner where two bookshelves are placed at right angles to one another are a small number of books I rarely read. That’s why I placed them there. But this afternoon, on a whim, I plucked out two of them. Both are hardbacks. Both are books on ‘English’ as a subject. I’ve had them for years. They’re so old that my name, written on the inside front covers, is inscribed with fountain pen ink. Yes, a fountain pen using bottled ink! How old is that? Yet these two volumes played a major part in developing my love of Creative Writing. Well written books on Creative Writing can do that to you.
"Left-right, left-right, left-right-left." My boot camp Navy days
Learng to write requires more than having a good imagination and a penchant for storytelling.
I bought those books back in 1966, at age thirty. I realized that if I was to make any real advances in this world, I had better obtain some recognized educational qualifications. You see, I’d left school at age fourteen. At fifteen I commenced work as a telegram messenger boy at a suburban post office. Thence began a decade and a half in which any formal qualifications were largely redundant. I didn’t need them. Specialized training my fields of work prevailed. I trained as a postal clerk and later, enlisted in the Royal Australian Navy as a Radio Operator. I was with the Navy for six years. Thence followed more than a decade as a Communications Officer with the now defunct, Department of Civil Aviation. This entailed, among other things Ground-to-air radio work. It was only when I returned from Papua-New Guinea in 1965 that I began to think seriously about my lack of formal education. There been no pressing need of it up until then.
The greater your world experiences the more you have to draw on as a writer
So around July 1966 I decided to study for the NSW Schools’ Leaving Certificate. A pass in this would enable entry as a ‘mature age student’ to university. It would also qualify me for Third Division status in the Australian Public Service. The APS was, had been, and looked like being for many years to come, my employer. A move to Third Division meant better chances of promotion – hence the desire for the Leaving Certificate pass. Those wonderful days in the first third or so of one’s life had slipped away; time to ‘climb the career ladder. It was time to ‘make my mark.’ Like so many, I’d been grabbed by Ambition’s grasp
A typical aeradio office in the 1960s
The writing propensity was there; the writing habit had yet to be established
I’d long forgotten what I’d learned about mathematics, trigonometry, geometry, physics, mechanics and those sorts of subjects at school. You use it, or you lose it. But avid reading had made me fairly conversant with Modern History, Geography and, to some extent, basic Economics. These were all ‘writing subjects’ where the answers to exam questions could be provided in essay form. As, of course, could the subject of English itself. Naturally, I chose the minimum number of subjects which would allow a pass: four. All of them were ‘writing subjects.’ The choice was a wise one.
Formal education does not necessarily make for a good writing style
It came to pass that a new exam was to supersede the Leaving Certificate in the New South Wales Public Schools’ System. This was just after I’d finished studying and had passed my Leaving Certificate. The new examination was called the Higher School Certificate or HSC. It came into being in 1967. The HSC comprised levels one, to three. I opted for Level Two. Most students did.
Motivated by success, I sat and passed this examination, too. I also sat for the Commonwealth Public Service Examination and passed that. So I’d actually passed three exams – all of approximately the same level – in 1966-67. I felt quite proud. Now I could go to university!
Jackson's Field, Port Moresby in the 1970s
What I really wanted to do was write a novel set against a background of Papua-New Guinea.
As it was, I was accepted into University twice – and chose to leave twice. But that is another story. However, all of this brought – including a lot of ‘soul searching,’ me closer to what I really wanted to do at that time: write a novel. It was almost burning within me to do this!
Back at last to those two books. Both were purchased as mandatory reading for the HSC. One is called Language – a text for senior students. It has four contributing authors. They were, Britton, Bray, Kittson and Rowland. The other is called, Thinking and Writing by B. Bailey and D.H.Morgan. These books are outstanding in their content. Just a quick glance at one of the contents pages will give you an idea of the depth and breadth of the subject matter covered.
South American Naval Training ship in Auckland, 1971
How to become a better writer also involves learning about language
Section A in Thinking and Writing: Introduction to the Language. What is language? History of English. The Sounds of Language. These are just three of the twenty-one areas covered. Then there is a section on the study of words. It includes: Concrete and abstract words- Words with no meaning- Emasculated meanings – Words with Misleading Meanings- Words with Changed Meanings- Words wit Emotional Overtones- Euphemisms- Jargon- Words Easily Confused- Choosing the Right Word- The Sound of Words and more. The book is 227 pages long and is filled with not only knowledge but wisdom. What a wonderful investment it turned out to be.
How to write well involves both theory and practice - but mostly practice
Language – a Text for Senior Students, although slight smaller, still covers a great deal, much of which is not covered in Thinking & Writing. For example, in Chapter Five we have Semantics: Language and symbols, and seven more points including Language and the Imagination, Propaganda, and Clear Thinking. I could go on but it would become monotonous. These are books you need to hold in your hand to appreciate.
Army LARC being lowered from MV Nella Dan.
Writing the English Language well requires precision in word selection
Why do I mention books on English for those who want to write? I do it because so often would-be writers think only of the creativity side of writing. But like any other art there are always two sides to the coin: creativity is essential. But so is craftsmanship. Craftsmanship in writing means not the ideas being expressed but how they’re being expressed. How they’re being expressed – if writing in the English Language – means using the actual words, knowing the punctuation and rules of syntax; knowing about synonyms and antonyms and spelling and… Lots!
The Danish Lauretson Lines, MV Nella Dan taking a few waves.
Many people say they’d like to write a book but for everyone who says they’d like to, some nine out of ten never get round to it. Still fewer people actually become writers in the fuller sense. Those who become writers and stay writers are people who felt a propensity towards creative writing even as a child. They might not have been particularly good at English Composition at school, though many are above average in this at that time of their lives. They would have had a vivid imagination and a liking for stories. They probably read a lot. For when I talk of ‘writers in the fuller sense’ I’m referring to those who have become addicted to it. They love it! Such persons write most days. They have pursued their passion to the point where they don’t feel quite right if they haven’t composed at least a long letter to a friend, an essay or, with the help of Internet sites today, a blog - something they can place on a site like Hubpages. FaceBook and Twitter-entries don’t quite make this category.
A Master Storyteller and Creative Writer in his early seventies.
You want to be a writer? - Then write!
A year or two after I felt the first urge to write, I enrolled in a Workers Education Program (WEA) in the city. It was no real hardship for I was working not far from where the classes were held. One night, after a lesson was over I was sitting at Town Hall Railway Station with a fellow student when he said something which probably made all the difference to my success or otherwise as far as persevering. Here are his words as I remember them:
“To become a writer you must write. You must write something every day. Even a few minutes a day will do. But you must write every day. ”
Form the habit by writing something every day - and keep at it.
Well, we know that it takes twenty-one days - working at it every day - to firmly establish a habit. So my advice to you, if you seriously wish to become a writer, is to form this habit by writing something every day for not less than three weeks. After that, the habit will have been formed. Once formed, you will find yourself continuing the practice, not necessarily daily, but certainly far more than you ever did before. It’ll have become addictive. You will have become a writer. Or at least you’ll have become a writer in your own mind. From thereon, what you do with this ever-developing skill will be up to you.
I wish you well.
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- Tom Ware Public Speaking The Prince of Storytellers
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