Friday, 6 September 2013

Writing - never mind the quality, feel the width

Lucie Rie conical bowl, 1978
I want to start with a quote from Evelyn Waugh's Decline and Fall. In this bit Paul Pennyfeather is having problems with discipline as a teacher in his first class at a ghastly school. Another teacher, a child molester called Captain Grimes,  gives him a cane and leaves him to it.

"Listen," he said. "I don't care a damn what any of you are called, but if there's another word from anyone I shall keep you all in this afternoon."
"You can't keep me in," said Clutterbuck; "I'm going for a walk with Captain Grimes."
"Then I shall very nearly kill you with this stick. Meanwhile you will all write an essay on 'Self-indulgence'. There will be a prize of half a crown for the longest essay, irrespective of any possible merit."
From then onwards all was silence until break. Paul, still holding his stick, gazed despondently out of the window. Now and then there rose from below the shrill voices of the servants scolding each other in Welsh. By the time the bell rang Clutterbuck had covered sixteen pages, and was awarded the half-crown.
"Did you find those boys difficult to manage?" asked Mr Prendergast, filling his pipe.
"Not at all," said Paul.

Apart from its refreshing lack of political correctness of any kind, this extract contains a writing tip: stop trying so hard and just get on with it. Even if no one is offering you a half crown.

In Art and Fear, Ted Orland and David Bayles tell the story of a ceramics teacher who told his class that half of them would be graded on the quantity of pots they created and the other half on the quality. At the end of the term, the results were interesting. Freed from the pressure of straining for excellence, making good and bad pots, practising and learning from their mistakes, it was the quantity group who produced the best pots.


  1. Good advice. I once met a guy who introduced himself to me as a writer in a very superior manner (he was actually wearing a cravat). I asked what he'd written, and he said he hadn't actually started anything yet, but he'd attended a lot of seminars by famous authors and had read a lot of articles about writing. When I revealed I'd written six novels, he walked away at speed! Ever since then I've called such people 'Cravats'.

  2. Goodness me, I'm not sure I've ever met anyone wearing a cravat. Where was this?

    Online research tells me wearing cravats is one of the weird things people do at weddings they never do at any other time. Apparently you can buy pre-tied cravats. Are they as naff as bow ties on elastic?

  3. I'd read about that experiment before, but had forgotten about it - thanks for the reminder. I fear I fall into the anxious side of the spectrum and can always use the reminder to just make a mistake, already!

  4. Yes; one of the comforting things about writing is you can always go back and fix things. We should be crazy, wild and carefree in our first drafts. Perhaps. I'm still working this out...

  5. My Grandfather used to wear cravats and looked rather dapper. However, I think he is, possibly, the only person I've ever encountered - post Terry Thomas, who has got away with them.

    He would never have called himself a writer but he wanted to write a book... as did my Mum... which is why I felt it was churlish not to. Phnark.



  6. MTM, I think to an extent we all take on our loved ones' dreams - as you say, it's churlish not to.

    Monocles, now there's another thing you don't see these days.

  7. Never mind the writing, I just love the Lucie Rie pot. Always my inspiration when I made pots.

  8. I didn't know you made pots, Rod.

    I have a friend who was given six Lucie Rie bowls as a wedding gift long ago. They family used them daily, and one by one they got broken... I think it's nice that they were used for many years rather than sitting in a showcase.

  9. I made pots for about 30 years. My kiln got flooded a few years ago, but I'm thinking of starting again. Throwing pots is a totally right hemisphere activity, makes a change from words and numbers. I have a couple of lucie Rie coffee cups that I use now and then when I want to drink a really expensive espresso.

  10. I tried throwing pots at college, and just wasn't that good at it. But if you did it for 30 years, you must be :o)

  11. So long as I can find the time, I don't have trouble writing screeds.

    I've just looked 'screeds' up in the dictionary to ensure I'm not malaproping and, by golly, it is exactly the right word.

    It says 1. a long piece of writing 2. a levelled layer of material applied to a floor.

  12. So long as you're not writing the wrong sort of screed, Anna, and will find yourself with a floor covering instead of a book...