Fri 15 November 2019
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The Information: How Fiction Works
Young Writers' Hub Coordinator Wes Brown talks books on writing

"The earliest writing I did and about the power of language to counteract the wallow of late adolescence, to define things, define muddled experience in economical ways." Don DeLillo

Like DeLillo, I began writing in my teenage years. I didn't do it to get published. I didn't do it to show other people – few things could've been scarier. It seemed that writing was an elemental art and all that was confusing, shapeless and undescribed could be transfigured, described and understood.

Many people write during adolescence. There is a disconnect between the growing self, the body and the pending world; but few carry the craft through into adulthood. Martin Amis claims that, "novels know more than we do". And I'd agree with that sentiment. Writing may gives us a sense of grace – though what we capture, when we're writing freely, imaginatively, generously is almost beyond what we can reasonably articulate. It belongs to the world of negative capability.

So as I sat writing, thinking, scratching shuffling, worrying. I had the physical intensity of the written word, the confession of the ink-ridden page. And then moving into literary circles – hearing of fancy ideas in critical theory – there seemed to be another disconnect. The difference between what I was writing, why I thought I was writing, and the high-density appreciation of literary 'texts' in academia. 

Part of this resulted in an anxiety of expectation. How could I write the kind of things that were under intensive scrutiny in these text books? How might my work stand up to Feminist, Marxist, Eco or Postmodern critique?

The answer is: it doesn't matter. While critical discussion around Literature is doubtlessly important, you don't need a theory to read or write a book. The most useful aids I found to writing were reading great novels and books like How Fiction Works by James Wood, How Novels Work by John Mullan and The Art of Fiction by David Lodge. 

These weren't how to write guides. You can't teach somebody to write. There is no set way. It can only be nurtured. But what these books do, is to define and illuminate elements of the writers' craft. As a writer, the more you understand the tools you have at your disposal, the more, I think, you can be in control of your inspiration. Much of what these writers describe, you'll find you already do, naturally, as a writer. But it's understanding your talent that can be so vital to enhancing it. 

Derek Walcott says all young writers must be heretics. This means that if there are any rules, they should be broken. That, ultimately, all you have is your craft. And that to express yourself truly, you have to go at things your own way. 

Wes Brown is a novelist and Coordinator of the Young Writers' Hub.

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