On photographs and writing

One of the things one tries to do with words, I think, when writing fiction, is to convey a sense of a world – of many worlds, perhaps – behind the immediate reality, or surface meaning. A gesture towards the immanent rather than the obvious. This is something that distinguishes the great photographs, too, I suspect, from the merely ‘good’ or ‘excellent.’ Easy to say, as a reader or critic; much harder to pull off oneself, of course. And who is to say when one has succeeded?

Perhaps this is what drives the ‘inner critic’ that leads some writers, both new and established, to write and rewrite and rewrite again, till every word is burnished. Which is all to the good – except when the pesky voice of the inner critic stands in the way of getting the work done in the first place.

Which is one of the writing traps I tend to fall into, at least with fiction: writing and rewriting the early bits to the point at which I get bogged down and fail to persist beyond the first 30 or 40 pages. It’s a liability, or disability, which Janet Burroway and co. usefully point out, in their standard text for college and university courses on creative writing, Writing Fiction: A Guide to Narrative Craft.

So here is what I’m doing: setting aside (for now) the endless novel I’ve been writing and getting bogged down in – am I on the 4th draft? or the 5th or 6th? I forget – and starting afresh with one that has seen only a partial start, and so far at least very little belabouring, and pushing on with it, so many words per day, without significant re-reading or revision. Get the first draft done, in other words – put the writer first – and let the damned inner critic come along and clean up the mess afterwards. First drafts are always horrible, all the great writers say so – the thing is to get the bloody thing done, so you can move on from it.

That’s the theory, anyway. I’ll let you know how it works out in practice.

Meanwhile, here is a photo: I’ve given it a name, The Bloor Cinema. It’s the first proper photo I took with the Leica Digilux, which I bought to replace the Leica C which was stolen in Namibia. I’ve tried with this image to suggest something about the cinema, it’s sense of mystery and anticipation perhaps, its louche luxury, that sense of something at once attractive and possibly forbidden. See if it works for you.


The Bloor Cinema

2 responses to “On photographs and writing”

  1. Thanks, Glen, for your thoughtful reflection on the pain of writing, and for the photo with its warm invitation to a new world inside.


    1. Hi Ian, it’s always good to get your feedback, and to know you are reading 🙂 Thank you as always.


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