Until recently, it was common to find people training in sculpture or painting. Likewise, no one would think of learning to play an instrument without first going through a long training process (music school, conservatory, private teacher…). However, writing was something else, it was something that, many people thought, had its foundations in inspiration. The writer was someone who made himself in front of a notebook or a typewriter.
If the musician had to study music theory and the painter had to go through years of studying perspective, all instruction and training received by the writer had to come from the spiritual, the muses, inspiration or innate talent. As the character in the film The Author (directed by Manuel Martín Cuenca; year 2017) remarked, “If you don’t have the talent to write, then don’t write”.
Well, it is clear that it is possible to learn how to write a novel. As it happens with the rest of the arts, writing also has its own language that, of course, you have to know. This implies deepening the knowledge of grammar, spelling, punctuation, structuring of a discourse…
Reading to write
Yes, learning to be a writer also involves reading other writers. This is something that, although it may seem obvious, in reality is not so obvious. It is necessary to have patience to, before considering ourselves writers, embark on the knowledge of a history of literature that, in Europe, goes back to Homer and the adventures of Achilles, Hector and Ulysses.
While covering this literary journey, we will also have to be trained in concepts such as the development of story and character structures or the identification of the different types of existing narrators.
Fear of the blank page
Anyone who has read the novel The Shining (Stephen King) will have discovered how the author refers to what is the dream of every writer: to have all the time in the world to write. It’s as simple as that. The problem is that Jack goes mad at the blank page and tries to axe his whole family to death.
The only thing Jack manages to write, and repeat for hundreds of pages, is the phrase “work, not play, made Jack a foolish boy”. Therein lies the secret, to err on the side of working instead of spending time playing. When the block comes, it’s time to play, to stop thinking about the finished product, about what the novel will be like when it’s finished.
Besides thinking about the game, and leaving aside the result, you have to enjoy the thought that you are doing something you enjoy… even if, along the way, you have to face moments of frustration and pain such as creative block and the blank page. There is a demand in what you are doing, but, also, there is a playful part that should not be forgotten.
It is precisely in the playful part of the task of writing that the author finds the literary gaze he is looking for, his personal and non-transferable literary gaze. The great enemy of the enjoyment of writing is blockage. For this reason, it is necessary to play as a way to change the gaze. And this game has a name: girlfriend and hearing aid, frying pan and crocodile, microphone and protozoan. This game of word pairs will serve to start with the first line. Also, to build images in the brain that end up becoming words.
Another resource to break the blockage. The list, for example, can be of tastes or memories. The point is that the lists should be personalized and concrete. This means that one could start with “I remember trips with my family to the beach in the old car”. From here, what were they like, what music was played, were there any rituals, did anyone get carsick, what did the car smell like, did you play a game like I spy or guess the color of the cars or if the license plate was odd or even, what did you do? If we start diving into memories, we will find more and more things.
The danger of neglect
Very often – writing workshop teachers know this very well – the reason why someone gives up his or her dream of being a writer is that he or she feels unable to overcome the blockage. Very often the reason for giving up is not a lack of skills or an inability to put their ideas and thoughts into writing. The only reason is the inability to deal with the blockage.
In life, when it comes to overcoming any obstacle, there is nothing left to do but to work to know its origin and, from there, to face it head on. About this, it would not hurt to read author Rona Randall’s book Writing Fiction. Among many other reflections and useful tips, Randall points out the following: “By recognizing his limitations, feeling comfortable with them, he (the author) will pick up his pen or keyboard and overcome his blockage. He will see how, by acting in this way, he will not feel like a bad writer because he has been sensitive enough to establish a pact with reality.”