Magpie Eyes

A Creative Writing Manifesto by Charlotte Appleby

At three I was a reader.[1] Much later I became a writer because I loved books.[2] These began with The Very Hungry Caterpillar and The Thirteen Clocks which built the foundations of speech. Other notable influences such as The Enchanted Wood and Mrs. Pepperpot Stories sparked the passionate imagination skulking inside. Like other teenagers, I retreated into speculative literature.[3] Harry Potter and The Philosopher’s Stone, The Hobbit, His Dark Materials and The Death of Grass; whatever represented an alternate reality frightfully like our own, twisted with a dystopian, violent or magical nature.[4] I would tap away at the keyboards in the dank corner of the school library.

 My taste developed, moving onto works such as House of Leaves, The Time Machine and Milk and Honey. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi points out ‘Plato wrote that the most important task for society was to teach the young to find pleasure [in the right objects]’[5] and books are the objects to provide this enjoyment. Books led me to stories and folklore, which swept me toward poetry. This life of solitude brings a sense of fulfilment but to be a writer is to be human.[6] Through writing you explore, learn and grow. The motto is to do what we love regardless of success, money or the judgement of others (this could cause continuous guilt and frustration but push these feelings aside using nasal breathing exercises).

I am a creature of habit, as is Twyla Tharp, ‘I begin each day … with a ritual: I wake up … put on my workout clothes’.[7] Under pale dawn light, I try to squeeze in a chapter of my current book before work and stretch out on the yoga mat as I avoid the clutches of a needy cat, among other distractions which try to whisk me away in their whirlwinds. Throughout the day I steal scraps of time[8] to free-write (often the ugly baby of writing, something nobody wants until they have it, as Peter Elbow’s viewpoint suggests in Toward a Phenomenology of Freewriting) and once I’m home I return to the desk. Our customs help us to leap into the wild.[9]

Writers carry pens and paper wherever we go to remind ourselves of what we are.[10] Getting into the flow is testing but once you pick up a pen and words are written it is difficult to stop the focus. It’s not quantity nor quality but the pure invention of characters, places and plots that pour out. Artists thrive in this state of being by breathing the words until their fingers become lungs. We love labour. We might shrivel and die without it. It changes us every time because of how it leads ‘to new challenges and hence to personal as well as cultural growth’[11] only once we reach the end of our mission will satisfaction come.

We should as Csikszentmihalyi preaches have ‘no worries of failure’[12] with our minds too involved with the task at hand to consider the outcomes. There is no future time for the act. Writers are too grounded in the present physicality of writing to think about it. This is key for procrastinators with a magpie eye caught by any pretty penny. I recommend writing courses and retreats for ‘[o]ne pointedness of mind is required … it is made possible by the clarity of goals and the constant availability of feedback’.[13] Joining a community benefits us with insights or ideas put forward by both readers and writers. First drafts need to be read by someone other than the author as ‘[a]ctions and awareness are merged’.[14] It can be hard to separate yourself from your work. Words are little wolves running across the pages. They are hard to master, and first drafts should not be held under high expectations.

One method to lessen anxiety regarding success is to widen your experiences. Go on that spontaneous holiday, attend that festival or visit Jane Austen’s House,[15] read underappreciated new writers and absorb all information available. We should, as Kleon does, ‘[g]oogle everything … Always be reading. There’s a magic being surrounded by books. Get lost in the stacks … search’.[16] Yes, a thirst for knowledge leads to better prose, poetry or drama. More importantly, it betters us as people and artists through opening an expanse once unseen. It gives meaning.[17]

The feeling of childish delight brings us to writing. Akin to that atmosphere embraced when sitting around a spitting campfire—owl’s hoots escape as echoing whispers drifting through the windy woods, moonlight drips over evergreen trees and clouds creep across a black hole of sky—as embers pop when adults put on husky voices and tell the spooky myths of creatures who once roamed those forest paths.[18]

Learn from those who came before us is an argument made by George Orwell self-righteously in Why I Write where he says sheer egotism or the ‘[d]esire to seem clever, to be talked about, to be remembered after death … [s]erious writers … are … vain and self-centred’.[19] We desire to appear and be clever, have our work discussed in order to show off. Writers want to be remembered. To do so we must craft the tightest sentences.  

This comes with a burden. As Philip Pullman phrases this ‘a protective … role of a guardian, almost a parent’[20] because our writing in early stages is ‘just a thought … the most evanescent little wisp of a thing’[21] and to nurture a thought and raise it into publishable words can appear an impossible task. In Dead Poets Society, John Keating says ‘you may contribute a verse’ meaning not only a writer’s work, but their life; how they live, the rituals they follow and values they hold. My rituals are yoga, reading, writing, travelling and growing. My values are compassion, education, fairness and limitless imagination. The verses we contribute show what kind of soul we are. Our verses are strength. The stories inside us cannot be silence and ‘[we] are tyrannized by our options’.[22] We may stumble into the woods[23] and lose sight of our values, but in these limitless options we can find strength to return to our course. Wade in the excitement of writing. Try new things because ‘a new subject for a writer is like a new colour for a painter’[24].

Words inspire more words as Margret Atwood describes in Spelling ‘[a] word after a word after a word is power’.[25] WithoutBeowulf there is no Lord of The Rings, without Odyssey there is no Ulysses. Without The Holy Bible there cannot be The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe. Writers learn from each other, are inspired by all and are avid readers who consume books as naturally as water because ‘[e]verything is up for grabs’.[26] We have what Orwell calls aesthetic enthusiasm, a ‘perception of beauty in the external word … in words and their right arrangement … firmness of good prose or the rhythm of a good story’[27] to appreciate texts for intent, how it looks on the page or sounds being read aloud. A deep appreciation for the craft and form. You merely need to start with one word.[28]

Writers understand the effort and editing required for a perfected final version. Reading melodic organisations of words strung into sentences of songs feels like brushing the steel strings of an old guitar. We experience that time spent scrawling under dim lamp light as we cross and underline and circle. Words are power. People must wonder what the world would be like if those like Martin Luther King Jr. didn’t dream, or if the Bill of Rights was never written, or if Otto Frank never published his daughter’s diaries.[29] ‘Words and ideas can change the world’[30] is what Orwell implies by the term historical impulse and political purpose. Writers push the world in a certain direction, seek out facts and ‘alter other people’s ideas of the kind of society that they should strive after’[31] and through my writing, I will achieve this. The ideal I perpetuate is a cleaner, educated world. It is our job as writers, to influence.[32]

Confidence will ‘build your own world around you’.[33] Create a writing space in the immediate surroundings which is motivational—my current writing space being an old bureau bought in a charity shop and squished at the end of my bed as a writing desk beneath a pinboard of inspirational photos and titbits—and Kleon urges ‘surround yourself without books and objects that you love. Tape things up … Create your own world’.[34] Fictionally speaking, create universes for characters and get lost in the potential for invention that expands the self ‘[p]aridoxically … through acts of self-forgetfulness’.[35] Writers imagine new worlds and grow into teachers through plotting stories[36] not only by asking questions[37] but kindling passion to pass on. ‘Poetry, beauty, romance, love, these are what we stay alive for’.[38]

My Personal Writing Declaration:

1. ‘Sheer Egotism’:[39] learn, even from perspectives you disagree with.

2. ‘[P]rotective responsibility: the role of a guardian, almost a parent.’[40]

3. ‘[T]urn them into shapes’:[41] mould ideas into personalities, places, tales to tell.

4. ‘[C]hange the world’:[42] write with a purpose.

5. ‘[B]e gentle’:[43] see a brighter world to nurture stories.


Appendix.    

Appendix A.

A colour coded plan for my manifesto which I created to decide what references to use from sources discovered through different avenues—previous studies, personal reading, module readings and texts which traverse all three of these. I first read pieces I thought relevant to manifestos and took note of quotations which resonated with me. Then, I organised these quotes into an excel table before examining how they might interlink.

Key:

Blue: Texts sourced and discussed during the module.

Green: Texts sourced and discussed prior to the module.

Turquoise: Texts sourced previously which traverse and link to the module.

Purple: Texts (and films) sourced through my own interests which have influenced me throughout the module.


References

Alexander, Michael, Beowulf: Verse Translation, (London: Penguin, 2003)

Aristotle, Poetics, trans. by Kenneth McLeish, (London: Nick Hern Books, 1999)

Atwood, Margret, “Spelling”, A Note on a Poem That Will Never Be Written, (Toronto: Salamander Press 1981)

Blyton, Enid, The Enchanted Wood, (London: George Newnes, 1939). Print. The Faraway Tree.

Casterton, Julia, “Why I Write”, Creative Writing A Practical Guide, (London: Macmillan Press Ltd 1998)

Carle, Eric, The Very Hungry Caterpillar, (London: Hamish Hamilton, 1969)

Christopher, John, The Death of Grass, (London: Michael Joseph, 1956)

Csikszentmihalyi, Mihaly, “The Flow of Creativity”, Creativity: the psychology of discovery and invention, (New York: Harper Perennial Modern Classics, 2013)

Danielewski, Mark, House of Leaves, (New York: Pantheon, 2000)

Dead Poets Society. Dir. Peter Weir, USA, 1989

Eddy, Jessica, “10 Ways in Which Words Have Changed the World” The Odyssey Online. (2016). https://www.theodysseyonline.com/10-ways-words-changed-world [accessed 29/09/2018]

Elbow, Peter, “Toward a Phenomenology of Freewriting”, Journal of Basic Writing, Vol. 8, No. 2, 1989 

Goins, Jeff, “The Writer’s Manifesto” Goins Writer (2011). https://goinswriter.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/12/The-Writers-Manifesto.pdf [accessed 29/09/2018]

Goldberg, Bonni, Room to Write, (New York: Penguin Putnam Inc, 1996)

Hendrickson Bibles, The Holy Bible, (Massachusetts, Hendrickson Bibles, 2004)

Homer, The Odyssey, (London: Penguin Classics, 2003)

Horowitz, Anthony, Stormbreaker, (London: Walker, 2000) Print. Alex Rider.
Joyce, James, Ulysses, (Ware: Wordsworth Editions, 2010)

Kaur, Rupi, Milk and Honey, (Kanas City: Andrews McMeel, 2015)

Kleon, Austin, Steal Like an Artist: 10 Things Nobody Told You About Being Creative, (New York: Workman, 2012) pp.19-20Lewis, C.S. The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe, (London: Geoffrey Bles, 1950)

Nicholls, Sophie, Week 1 so far, Core Skills and Techniques, Teesside University, 28. Sep 2018

Orwell, George, Why I Write, (New York: Penguin Books 2004)

Philip Pullman, Daemon Voices: Essays on Storytelling, (Oxford: David Fickling Books, 2017)

  • His Dark Material Triology, (New York: Scholastic, 1995–2000)

Proysen, Alf, Mrs. Pepperpot Stories, (London: Red Fox, 1992)

Rowling, J. K. Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, (London: Bloomsbury, 1997)

Shakespeare, William, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, (London: Penguin Classics, 2015)

Shapiro, Dani, Still Writing: The Perils and Pleasures of a Creative Life, (New York: Grove Atlantic Inc. 2013)

Tolkein, J. R. R. The Hobbit, (Crows Nest: George Allen & Unwin 1937)

  • The Lord of The Rings (London: HarperCollins, 2005)

Thurber, James, The Thirteen Clocks, (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1950)

Wells, H. G. The Time Machine, (Portsmouth: William Heinemann, 1895)


[1] I continued to be so relentlessly as ‘[l]iterature is an endless source of courage and confirmation.’
Prose, Francine, Reading Like A Writer: A Guide for People Who Love Books, (London: Union Books, 2006) 250.

[2] Books are easy to love because the ‘[t]ruth is strangers than fiction’.
Goldberg, Bonni, Room to Write, (New York Penguin Putnam Inc. 1996) 68.

[3] ‘The obsessive, merciless, solitary, amoral, almost savage devouring of a text to the obliteration of everything else is something we all … have experienced at some point.’
Pullman, Philip, Daemon Voices: Essays on Storytelling, (Oxford: David Fickling Books, 2017) 262.

[4] ‘The chief purpose of all composition … is the imitation (mimesis) of reality’
Aristotle, Poetics, trans. by Kenneth McLeish, (London: Nick Hern Books, 1999) 3.

[5] Csikszentmihalyi, Mihaly, “The Flow of Creativity”, Creativity: the psychology of discovery and invention, (New York: Harper Perennial Modern Classics, 2013) 124.

[6] ‘I think people write because they need to. Lawrence Durrell described it as a way of becoming more human.’ Casterton, Julia, “Why I Write”, Creative Writing A Practical Guide, (London: Macmillan Press Ltd 1998) 1.

[7] Tharp, Twyla & Reiter, Mark, “Rituals of Preparation” The creative habit: learn it and use it for life: a practical guide, (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2006) p. 14

[8] ‘It’s essential to have sacred time for writing. All successful authors have some daily commitment’ Shapiro, Dani, Still Writing: The Perils and Pleasures of a Creative Life, (New York: Grove Atlantic Inc. 2013) p10

[9] ‘[W]hen we take part in our traditions of our craft we start to soar’ Goldberg, p.44

[10] ‘Get used to pulling it out and jotting down your thoughts and observations. Copy your favourite passages out of books. Record overheard conversations. Doodle when you’re on the phone’ Kleon, Austin, Steal Like an Artist: 10 Things Nobody Told You About Being Creative, (New York: Workman, 2012) p. 21

[11] Csikszentmihalyi p.124

[12] Ibid p.112

[13] Ibid p.112

[14] Ibid p.111

[15] ‘You can always come back, but you have to leave … [t]ravel makes the world look new, our brains work harder.’ Kleon, p.94

[16] Kleon pp.19-20

[17] ‘I realised the meaning of the story … start with colours and noises and atmospheres, and gradually characters and incidents emerge and join together … last of all, come the theme and the meaning.’ Pullman, p. 302

[18] ‘[T]he job of an author … is to write … about what might or should happen’ Aristotle, p. 13

[19] Orwell, George, Why I Write, (New York: Penguin Books 2004) pp.4-5

[20] Pullman, p. 19

[21] Ibid

[22] Shapiro, Dani, Still Writing: The Perils and Pleasures of a Creative Life, (New York: Grove Atlantic Inc. 2013) p.17

[23] ‘[I]f you leave the path, the readers put down the book … you became more interested in the woods … the richness and invention of the world … Never leave the path … that’s when you’re telling the story. When you’re talking about telling the story, as I am now, you are allowed to leave the path and wander through the woods’ Pullman, p.90

[24] Ibid p.84

[25] Atwood, Margret, “Spelling”, A Note on a Poem That Will Never Be Written, (Toronto: Salamander Press 1981)

[26] Kleon, p.6

[27] Orwell p.5

[28] ‘The urge to tell a story or shape a poem is calling’ Goldberg, introduction xi

[29] Eddy, Jessica, “10 Ways in Which Words Have Changed the World” The Odyssey Online. (2016). https://www.theodysseyonline.com/10-ways-words-changed-world [accessed 29/09/2018]

[30]Dead Poets Society. Dir. Peter Weir, USA, 1989

[31] Orwell p.5

[32] ‘[T]he job of the storyteller is to alter history’ Pullman, p.365

[33] Kleon, Austin, Steal Like an Artist: 10 Things Nobody Told You About Being Creative, (New York: Workman, 2012) p.90

[34] Ibid

[35] Csikszentmihalyi p. 113

[36] ‘Stories also teach … by showing how human character and actions are intimately bound up together’ Pullman, p. 323

[37] ‘[F]iction can engage with questions of meaning … tell new stories, or re-tell old stories … which explore these questions’ Pullman, p. 324

[38] Dead Poets Society

[39]Orwell, pp. 4-5

[40] Pullman, p. 19

[41] Shakespeare, William, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, (London: Penguin Classics, 2015) act 5, sc. 1, l. 7

[42] Dead Poets Society.

[43] Shapiro, p.10

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