January 1st 2022

What inspires you as a writer?

It’s a little over two and a half years since I set up this site, not really having much clue about what I was doing but thinking that it would be a good way to promote my own writing. I still have no idea how to run a website properly, and I’ve done very little in terms of promoting my own writing apart from posting my daily entries in June each year for The Literal Challenge’s ‘Like The Prose’ contest – before realising that doing so effectively shoots me in the foot as it means I can’t enter any of those pieces for other writing competitions.

Having an extremely time-consuming job as an English teacher in a secondary school means I don’t get as much time to write as I would like to – particularly since I’m also doing an MA in Creative Writing which is another 20-40 hours a week of study on top of the 45+ hours in school each week. So, all in all, I don’t seem to have much to share on my blog page.

That’s when I started re-thinking this site. Writing is a way of life. As Margaret Atwood has said in one of her ads for her online Masterclass, ‘You become a writer by writing. There is no other way. So do it. Do it more. Do it better. Fail. Fail better.’ However, reading is equally important: reading ‘good’ literature expands our vocabulary and improves our own writing style. It opens us up to new ways of looking at the world and fresh ways of describing characters and events. I often tell my GCSE students that I can tell from looking at their creative writing who the readers are in the class – because the ones who read the most are the ones whose writing is richer in vocabulary, more imaginative in ideas and more elegant in terms of style.

So, this year, I’m going to try to post something every day – not to showcase my own writing but to share words from other writers that I find particularly inspiring, challenging or beautifully written. Let’s start with a quotation from a 19th century French novelist:

“La parole humaine est un chaudron fêlé où nous battons des mélodies à faire danser les ours quand on voudrait attendrir les étoiles.” Gustave Flaubert, Madame Bovary.

I’ve read two different translations of this, neither of which does the original French justice. One reads, “Language is a cracked kettle on which we beat out tunes for bears to dance to, while all the while we long to move the stars to pity.” whilst another says that “Human speech is like a cracked kettle on which we tap out crude rhythms for bears to dance to, while we long to make music that will melt the stars.” My own translation is as follows: “Human speech is a cracked cauldron where we beat melodies to make bears dance when we would like to soften the hearts of the stars.” Whichever way you look at it, Flaubert is saying that human speech will always be inadequate at expressing our truest longings and desires – but he says it in such a beautiful and poetic way that his statement seems contradictory.

What are your thoughts on this quotation?

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