Contrary to a lot of opinion the technique of writing can be taught, and must be learned by good writers, but that’s not to say that everybody can be a good writer. Each cobbler to his last. Music maths or painting whatever it is there are people with special abilities in various fields and for them the right instruction at the right time is seed sown on rich ground.
I’ve been to a few writing instructors but found only one or two who really spoke to me.
Last week Claire Keegan really spoke to me. I came away inspired, enlightened, and energised, a very good bargain for a few dollars.
I hadn’t heard of Claire Keegan when I signed up for the course at the end of last year, but since then I’ve read some of her stories. She has only written short stories, so far, and if you are looking for the highest quality in short stories, read her work. In particular a story called Foster. It’s a long short story or a very short novella, whichever way you look at it, and I guarantee it will linger in your mind for a long time.
Anyway, Claire Keegan turned out to be a redheaded Irish woman of about fifty who had read meticulously all her life and thought about what she had read. I was delighted that one of her favourite authors is Chekov, because he’s always been one of mine, and I was astonished by the depth of her insights into the writing process. To tell the truth I was a little jealous that I hadn’t been able to think of those things to the depths she had.
I have always wondered what makes quality and I think there are three things required.
- The first is to observe.
Without observation we have nothing. Most people observe through their eyes but others observe in strange and personal ways – but they do observe.
- Having observed, the second requisite is to think about it.
Inside the brain what has been observed is dissected, or inverted, or reclassified. Processed. But whatever goes on in the coils of a person’s heart or mind the observed thing is newly understood in an original manner. It’s a kind of human alchemy in perception and understanding.
- The third thing is to express the conclusions.
Whatever it is that has been realised in the mind it needs to be expressed, and there are as many ways of doing that as there are senses. Most commonly it’s writing but it can also be in movement, music or mathematics, or the many forms of art.
Expression is the stage that gives visibility to what has gone on in the mind. It is the translation that allows others to share the insights. Without it the cycle is incomplete.
For most things, ordinary everyday things, the cycle is incomplete; it finishes at stage two where most of us stop, but for those who go through the discipline of making their observation and their thinking available to others the process is not complete until they have put it to the test of submission to other eyes, other minds.
It’s a mysterious process and I can’t guarantee that it’s as neatly sequential as I have stated it, but those stages are always there in a finished work of quality.
All her life Claire Keegan has been observing the Irish world around her and her sharp observations have been processed in a very able mind. The stories and the teaching which have resulted are of the highest and most original quality. When I came away from her seminar I felt I’d been presented with a rare opportunity to understand writing a little better and that it had been delivered with wit and clarity.
It was a great day. The sort where you come out at the end and want to leap in the air to click your heels. I did that – metaphorically.
Desmond Kelly was born in Lithgow but from age four to seventy-seven, lived in New Zealand. He describes himself as “geographically Australian, culturally New Zealand and totally confused”. He lives on Macleay Island in Moreton Bay. He has self-published three crime novels with two more to appear this year and is always scribbling something. You can sign up to his newsletter or drop him a line at firstname.lastname@example.org.