Farm Ireland

Saturday 17 March 2018

Writing ability comes from skills in reading

Best way to improve your own technique is to examine talents and faults of others in their works of creativity

Joe Barry

Joe Barry

I was asked a few years ago if I would consider giving creative writing lessons as an evening class. While being flattered that anyone would consider me fit for such a task, I knew it would be pointless because having attended umpteen such classes myself, I have come to the conclusion that you cannot 'teach' writing. All I could have done was hand out lists of books that I felt were worth reading and then sent everyone home.

Writing comes from within and the best way to learn and improve your own skills is to read, then read more and then keep on reading. Make a list of good authors, go to the library, take out the books, read them and carefully examine how the stories are structured and how they use language. Note the ones you enjoy most and study why this is so.

We can write about anything under the sun but it's usually best to stick to subjects we are familiar with. My favourite authors are people such as John Steinbeck, who wrote brilliantly about the down and outs in 1930s America, or John McGahern, who produced magical tales, all of which were based on his own life and personal experiences. Simple stories but so readable and so moving because the author is being honest with the reader and writing about a subject he knows intimately.


Writing is about communicating ideas and creating mental images in a manner that holds the reader's attention. All aspiring writers long for that elusive phrase or sentence that the reader dwells on, remembers and maybe repeats with pleasure.

There is, of course, a degree of snobbery to be found among the literary brigade and it is only when you attend a writers' weekend that you realise how the various scribes are classified as being good, just average or occasionally brilliant.

Creative writing, where the author creates a story and characters in a manner that grips the reader is a rare skill but it can be learnt if one works at it -- and occasionally the writer earns millions in the process.

Then there is poetry, journalism, essays, letter writing, sports reporting, travel literature, press releases, writing obituaries and even pieces like this, which could be described as an 'opinion piece', but the highest form of writing in the minds of the snobs is the literary novel.

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I struggle along with my weekly piece for this great newspaper knowing that, as far as the creative writers are concerned, I am near the bottom of the pile. But do I care? Remember that the vast majority of authors of novels, literary or otherwise, make no money whatsoever, whereas contributors to newspapers at least get paid something for their efforts. It may be a miserly amount but it beats the hell out of starving for your art.

So if anyone reading this thinks they can write a bit and would like to try and earn a few bob on the side the answer is simple, yes you can. Almost anyone can do it and don't for a moment think that you have nothing to write about. Just learn how to tell your story in a manner that others will enjoy.

Maybe join a writers' group; virtually every town in Ireland has one where you can share your work with others who will sympathetically criticise it. Get a copy of The Writers and Artists Yearbook. It's full of useful hints and tips and contains the contact details for every newspaper, magazine, agent and book publisher in Britain and Ireland.


There are lots of outlets for the written word, beginning with your local parish or town newsletter. They will be glad of well-written articles of local interest. Once you have gained confidence you can then try the newspapers and magazines, which are always on the look out for good, short articles and news items. There are endless possibilities from writing a Mills and Boon "bodice ripper" to describing a local football match. All have their own separate skills.

The writers' weekends that are held throughout Ireland during the summer are great fun to attend and despite my earlier remarks, it is good to take part in a workshop at least once and meet with other aspiring writers like yourself. It's one way of helping to form your style and what is called your 'voice'.

The rest is down to you and a lot of hard work. But remember, no matter what anyone else tells you, the best way to learn to write is to read.

Indo Farming