Tag Archives: Keith Oatley

Folk-art tradition in writing

In visual art, there is respect for folk-art, and a market. There is the equivalent of this in self-published on-line pieces, [Ania Szado] said. Perhaps we are developing a respectable folk-art tradition in writing, which may mean that creative writing programs become less important.

Keith Oatley


I kind of love the idea that Lulu is the writing equivalent of Etsy.


A culture of readers

[Cate Bush] was skeptical about the value of [the workshop] method, and said that teaching writing can’t really be done except by teaching reading. There’s a need to create a culture of readers.

Keith Oatley

omg, yes. IMO, the top three things you can do to “learn” to write:

1. Read a lot, and widely. Don’t just read what you know you like; take risks. It’s not a lifetime commitment; it’s a book (or a story). Read in your genre and outside of it. Read stuff you don’t like. Read stuff you don’t think you’ll like (but maybe you will). Read stuff you know nothing about before you start reading. Read stuff that’s “hard” and stuff that’s “easy,” etc. Read, read, read.

2. Edit other writers’ work. Join a writing group, volunteer as a reader for a journal. I know it takes time. But you know what? If you give up some of your time for other writers, it will come back to you. Learning to identify the flaws in other people’s writing makes it so much easier to see them in your own. So when you come back to your own work, instead of floundering around, knowing something isn’t right but unsure what exactly isn’t working, you can edit with purpose.

3. Write.

An object of attachment

My tears [as I started to read Swallows and Amazons] could perhaps have been nostalgia (defined as memories of things that never happened) but I think they were a matter of attachment, as when one is reunited with an attachment person after a period of separation and danger. In the first paragraph of Swallows and Amazons, I was suddenly reunited with an object of attachment. I have read all of Ransome’s children’s books, I think when I was between eight and eleven. I used to own the whole set. I remember them on a bookshelf. They must have been given to me, one by one, by my parents. … My attachment  to these books was made at a time when neither my parents nor I knew anything about. sailing. It must have been Ransome’s books that implanted in me the desire to sail.

Keith Oatley

Searches for Truths

Members of the OnFiction group have (if I may speak for all of us) been a bit dissatisfied with the idea that non-fiction is true and fiction is untrue. We prefer to see fiction in terms of its subject matter: exploration of how selves make their sometimes problematic ways through the social world.

Uncertainty about what really happened is an issue that rightly exercises historians and journalists. But the deeper issue, raised by [Frederic] Bartlett though not mentioned by [Daniel] Mendelsohn, is that when remembering or, indeed, when trying to make sense of anything for the first time, we are constantly engaged in an “effort after meaning” (Bartlett, p. 20). In his refusal to write an autobiography, Freud wasn’t worrying about truth and untruth, but about truth and lying.

Fiction, then, in which one searches for truths other than those of mere actuality, as if from the inside, may be the real expression of the human effort after meaning.

Keith Oatley

Thinking, Drafting and Re-drafting

The coming into existence of the paper-and-print book has many accomplishments, two of which, it seems to me, were scarcely foreseeable in 1455. They are entirely remarkable. One was to enable the emergence and wide appreciation of novels and short-stories: forms in which authors spend months and years on a work, thinking, drafting and re-drafting, so that they can reach all the way down into the subjects they treat. The other has been the possibilities for readers to enter into relationships—quite intimate relationships—with books, with authors, with fictional characters.

Keith Oatley