Martyrs or tricksters: the truth about writing

Liz GilbertThis Easter weekend I have had my head completely rearranged about writing. I now can’t remember why I ordered Liz Gilbert’s brightly-coloured book Big Magic or what I was expecting from it when I did, but maybe some “eudaimon” was at work already – calling, enticing, leading, suggesting, poking at my unhappiness and dissatisfaction with the writing status quo in my own life.

Not many of us who write almost all the time dare to call ourselves “writers”. We wait until we’ve been published, critiqued and acclaimed and then we think about adopting that name. But then, a little later, we reason: “I don’t make a living this way, I still hold on to my job because I could never make money from my writing, so actually I really am not a real writer, not yet.” I have written my entire life – first as a child at school and play, then as a teenager and young adult who wanted to be a poet, then as a journalist, a subeditor, a commissioning editor and now as an academic researcher and teacher of writing to others. I write a blog about genres of writing, a strong interest now which I pursue with a passion that surprises me. Since 1981 have made my living from writing in multiple forms and clothed and fed myself and my family through it, and yet the question “Can I call myself a writer?” persists. Continue reading

Hello Oulipism

I’m not a fiendishly-addicted word games person (not much of a Scrabble fan, but do like Dictionary and games that involve invention and quite a bit of clever cheating) but I am a person who is very suspicious of the way writers talk about inspiration, their muses and the way their characters take over their writing, so Oulipism — which is brand new to me but maybe not to you — holds quite a bit of interest for me.

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A while ago, on a trawl for books for my book club, I happened to buy Georges Perec’s A Void (an entire novel written without the letter e, first in French and called La Disparition and then translated into English) and found it to be great fun — not a single book clubber agreed and the book remained in the club unread until I retired it. It was, however, a curiosity until I encountered a piece by Paul Grimstad in the London Review of Books (Vol 34 No 23, 6 December 2012) about Oulipism as a writing movement started, of course, in France. Continue reading