Monday, 15 November 2010
Straying from the path - Anne Rooney
Last Thursday, I gave a class to a group of delightful second-year creative writing students at the University of Essex. Their tutor had asked me to tell them what I do, how I got to be doing it, and what it's like day to day, as well talking about writing creative non-fiction.
At the end of the class, one girl asked 'If someone else had to do your job, they would need knowledge in so many different areas. How would they do it?' And of course the answer is that they wouldn't. No two people - and so no two writers - have exactly the same skill set and knowledge set. That's why our books are unique. It's one of the things that makes writing such an exciting and rewarding job. As writers, what we sell is not just our ability to string words together, but the peculiar mix of interests, insights, passions, knowledge and experiences that defines us as individuals. Leaving aside straight text books, no two writers would ever write exactly the same book. There are creative skills we can all develop (assuming some native talent to start with), but the way we all work our magic on the content, and the content we come up with in the first place, are intensely personal and individual.
When we read or hear about writers' lives, it's often the strangeness of the path that has led them to their books that is most intriguing. No-one else would ever follow quite the same path or end up in quite the same place. So I'm not sure how useful my talk was for the student writers, in that I couldn't give them a road map or even any hints as to how to get to my job. I didn't get here by following a clear route. If anything, I got here by straying from the obvious path at every opportunity, blundering through the deep, dark forest with scant regard for the bears and wolves that might inhabit it. And the job? As for all writers, my job is simply being me. And doing a bit of writing at the points where being me intersect with what other people might be interested in.
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