Why do we find writing so difficult? Even some of the great writers, such as George Orwell and Thomas Hardy have described the fear invoked by the blank sheet of paper; more likely replaced today by the flickering computer screen. No matter how experienced we continue to struggle with words and prefer to find ways of avoiding the difficult task of composing our thoughts. Prevarication is one of the writer’s closest familiars, and often his greatest curse. If this is true of those who have become successful authors, how much more difficult might it be for those of us who merely dabble in the shallow waters of writing? There are more good reasons not to write than to commence this arduous process, yet in some of us there is a compulsion to proceed. How dangerous might this addiction be? Few who have achieved a modicum of success would honestly seek a cure.
More than thirty friends and colleagues, each with a commitment to write, came together today in Bangalore for a workshop. At the beginning of the day it was possible to discern a range of tensions and confidences. How will I cope if I am asked to write and can think of nothing to say? Will today’s tasks be difficult and make too many demands upon me as a neophyte writer? Hopefully these apprehensions were soon allayed, as participants began to share in writing activities and found their peers supportive.
As university tutors we are cruel and unthinking in our approach to student’s writing. Mature students enter courses, quite possibly having written nothing more complex than a shopping list for twenty years. Within weeks they are being asked to produce essays of 5,000 words and in a style with which they are largely unaccustomed. For some this is akin to being asked to work in a different language, yet this procedure has become standard in many academic institutions. Ask the tutors who run these courses, how much writing do they do, and how easily does their pen flow? I wonder how honestly they might answer?
If you decided today that you wanted to run a marathon it would be foolish to believe that you could do this tomorrow without having undertaken any training. Yet with writing we fail to recognise that this is not only an intellectual activity, but also one that makes physical demands. It takes time to become accustomed to sitting before a screen and trying to write for prolonged periods of time. For most of us it may be far better to begin with shorter and easier exercises rather than to decide to launch straight into a novel.
In too many schools writing has become a chore. Unfortunately there are teachers who are more concerned with the technical aspects of grammar and punctuation than they are with creativity. Grammar and punctuation are, of course important, they provide the structure around which fine writing is constructed. But let’s encourage children to enjoy the writing process first and once they recognise that writing can be fun, we can then shape and perfect the techniques that will help them to become proficient in using the written word for a range of purposes.
Participants in today’s workshop worked hard. They explored writing in different styles and for different purposes. They shared in their writing triumphs and admitted to a few difficulties. The learning that was in evidence assured everyone that they can write and that with practice they can write well. The concentration on a range of activities was sustained over several hours, tasks were taken seriously but there was much laughter. Interesting, often amusing and in some instances profound work was produced, but above all everyone agreed that writing had been an enjoyable experience.
Who knows, maybe the next J.K. Rowling, Agatha Christie, Vikram Seth, or Anita Desai could have been our midst. Even if this is not to be, I hope that at least some of today’s workshop participants will have been inspired to continue writing and shaping their ideas in words.