You have to write for a long time, to write like yourself …

I recently read two very interesting articles. The first one was by Rodger Evans (Poetry Is A Dangerous Word) in the *Leither Magazine. In his article Rodger suggests poetry doesn’t have to be obscure or difficult to comprehend to be satisfying or of value. The second article/blog post is by Jeff O’Neal (The Problem of Reading For Pleasure) and found on the BookRiot website. In seemingly stark contrast to Rodger’s article, Jeff suggests that only literary fiction (AKA challenging fiction) can be truly satisfying and of any lasting value to the reader. So, what do you think? Do poems and fictional stories have to be tricky to read to be soul sustaining, or can accessible, quick reads also be of worth?

As a reader, I think it’s the reading experience that matters. I want to read what I want, when I want, whether highbrow, lowbrow, no brow or all brow. Who cares what the Thought Police think? The important thing is to have choice. Luckily, the book shops and libraries are full of choices.

“My books are like water; those of the great geniuses are wine. (Fortunately) everybody drinks water.”

Mark Twain

As a writer, I think judging books/poetry as worthy, is not helpful. I’ve just finished writing my first crime novel. It is due out at the end of the year. I am, of course, pleased about this and not just because the toil of writing the book is over. You see, ever since I picked up my pen over ten years ago, I wanted to write a crime fiction. However, when I finally plucked up enough courage to put my scribbles together and do a masters degree in writing, I was put off writing crime. Why? Because at the university I went to, only literary fiction was deemed worthy. When you’re starting out on the rocky road to becoming a writer, it’s easy to be influenced by such judgements. But if you don’t want to write literary fiction, it’s even easier to lose your way.

“A writer must takes infinite pains – if he writes only one real story in his life, that it is better than a hundred bad ones – and that finally the pains the writer takes must be his own.”

John Gardner

Not unlike John Gardner, I believe we writers need to write our own real stories. Whether poetry or fiction, and regardless of genre. It doesn’t matter how long it takes. Only then can the writing be of any good, and good writing will always quench a reader’s thirst. As Mark Twain said, we all need water, as for wine …


“You have to play for a long time to play like yourself.”

Miles Davis

So, I applaud **Rodger Evans for his courage in standing up for accessible poetry which speaks to everyone. And I feel a little let down by Jeff O’Neal, who is still perpetuating the myth that only literary fiction can have any true lasting value to the reader – this despite the blurb on the BookRiot site saying “we’re different” and “dedicated to the idea that writing about books and reading should be just as diverse as books and readers are.” Maybe not so “different” after all, Jeff?

*The Leither is a community based magazine with very wide appeal.

** Rodger is reading some of his own poetry on 29th April here in Edinburgh, check out  Shore Poets.

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One Response to You have to write for a long time, to write like yourself …

  1. JF says:

    Thanks for a great post. Will keep checking and looking forward to read more about your new book on the Pacific murders.

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