Learning about writing through writing about writing

On 30th June we dispatched the completed second revised manuscript of our book On Retiring to our editor at Guardian Faber. Eileen and I celebrated this next step towards publication with a visit to Hackney Museum Migrations Exhibition (great) and lunch at the Picture House (also great). Part of the celebration was this interview that I (CL) conducted with Eileen (EC).

40 EC & CL

CL: So we’ve sent our revised manuscript to Guardian Faber. How does it feel?

EC: Oooooooh wonderful, charming, delightful, delicious! A fantastic achievement because it is a popular/trade book and we’ve never written like that before. So we had to change our style and approach and way of thinking about how to engage with the audience.

CL: What have you learned from writing this book?

EC: One thing was redrafting the whole book to make it edgy. I’m not sure, even now, that I know what that means but the process definitely improved the writing. It made it succinct, more alive, focussed, amusing, witty and engaging.

Rewriting the second time taught me about how you could get the reader to think about issues and act on them in a way I didn’t think possible; ie not asking questions at the end of a section or chapter, more about a strategy to get the reader to involved themselves with the text.

CL: What was the worst bit?

EC: When all those publishers were telling us it was a brilliant book but not for them.

CL: And the best?

EC: The times we had together writing collaboratively. I think that’s when we are at our best. We have a dialogue to make sense of what we really want to convey and produce really good writing that we couldn’t achieve alone. The laughs we had during these periods almost brought on my asthma. I’ve learned so much from you in this collaboration.

CL: Why do you write?

EC: To learn. I believe that writing is more than telling the reader what you know but a continuous analysis of what you think, believe in and want to clarify for yourself. During the process I’m reworking my thoughts and my ideas and creating new ways of thinking. It changes me by changing how I look at the issues in a new way.

CL: How does this book compare to others you have written?

EC: I’ve never written anything that wasn’t scholarly or academic but I’ve always been interested in theory related to practice. Previous writing has been about education and learning and more concerned with concepts and how they related to practice.

This book has big concepts, illustrated through narratives and my own changing perspectives. Previously I’ve remained anonymous. In this book my ideas, thinking, changing and learning has been as much part of the book as bringing in other people’s stories.

So returning to learning, I’m now writing about changing circumstances such as transitions in retirement and ageing, before it was about classrooms and young people and working with adults to enhance their learning. Now there is more of me and my learning in the text.

CL: Where next?

EC: I am now involved in a major project on ageing – again covering different perspectives, combining narratives and research to come up with bigger themes – social, political, personal, intellectual and so on.

Also I am interested in writing about writing. I’m constructing a course that will be face-to-face but designing the materials as if it were an on-line course because that will happen later. I’ve written about writing before and enjoyed going back to it and it helps my writing now as well. Reinforces it. I’m learning about writing through writing about writing.

Because the course is for people in an art organisation I am trying to include art to stimulate writing activity. I also want this to help participants think about their writing identities and connect their writing with the context in which they are writing. That’s challenging as I have never done that before. It’s very exciting.

CL That sounds so interesting, so I look forward to hearing more about that. And I love that phrase you used: learning about writing through writing about writing. I’m going to use that in my work as a writing coach. Thank you so much Eileen.

EC: You are welcome. I really enjoyed reflecting on the process. I’d really like to hear your answers to the same questions.

A REMINDER: The Readalong review of Good Morning, Midnight by Jean Rhys will be posted on Tuesday 23rd July.

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2 Comments

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2 Responses to Learning about writing through writing about writing

  1. Eileen

    This looks really good Caroline. Well done. It was good to reflect on the writing process. Long may our collaborative writing continue.
    Love, Eileen.

  2. Marianne

    Lovely to hear about this and I so agree about learning and developing through the writing process. Most of all congratulations to you both on this tremendous achievement.

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