Write on- When is the old murder still new?


Writing, the old and the new
(c)susansheldonnolen 2012

I have a yellowed smoke attacked copy of Sir Quiller-Couch’s tome, On The Art of Writing. It was first published in 1916 and I own the “new edition” of 1943,  still a rather long time ago.

The “On the Art Of Writing”  is out of print, and I can see why. It is a hard slog to get through as it is also a collection of Couch’s essays and talks at Cambridge. You have to muddle through a tremendous amount of writing dedicated to addressing his students at the time.  But once past that, there are gems to be discovered. He is the source of  ” murder your darlings. ”

Sir Quiller Couch was born in Cornwall and wrote several works of fiction, verse, criticisms, anthologies, and his autobiography. He used the pen name Q. Many of the  great writers all give him credit to their becoming distinguished writers of their time, Helen Hanff, John Mortimer, Alister Cook, and more.  He was Professor of English Literature at Cambridge University until his death,  12 May 1944. A formidable man, eccentric by nature and possessor of great knowledge of which he shared in his lectures and writing.

Arthur Quiller-Couch

Arthur Quiller-Couch (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In “On the Art of Writing” Sir Quiller -Couch writes of Sir Joshua Reynolds, and his  1769 lecture to his students at the Royal Academy about the practice of copying art from the old masters. Reynolds does not give them a list of how the great masters worked, what brushes they used, how they ground their paint, or how to be like them, and as for “copying” the great masters as a way of learning how to be an artist, Quiller writes, “He comes down like a hammer on them.”

Reynolds in his lecture does leave us with a the key to success in art.

“ The more extensive your acquaintance is with the works of those who have excelled, the more extensive will be your power of invention.”

Self portrait of Sir Joshua Reynolds (1776)

Self portrait of Sir Joshua Reynolds (1776) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

“Your Power of Invention.” This thought I find fascination and have to agree that the more you study great art and writing,  and the more you practice, the greater your power will be to create original art. It is a fascinating concept that still holds true to today. The practice of reading great writing, and even the practice of imitation will lead with continued hard work to original creation. For the endless words, the hours of practice will become so ingrained that writing which once a foreign language, is now learned and totally assimilated into every cell of the body, so that when it comes to writing something original, it will come forth freely and without any sense of pretence.

So old Quiller, I will put your musty old book back on the shelf of my library and give you a quick nod of agreement.

” It amount to this- Literature is not a mere Science, to be studied: but an Art, to be practised. ” Sir Arthur Quiller Couch

About susan sheldon nolen

It’s rare to catch me without coffee, a form of camera, or my beloved wire fox terriers. I love the history, the art, and it’s a massive part of my life, as I either paint, write, or get interrupted by my dogs, reminding me of the real world. I hope you enjoy your time here. It’s such a privilege to have readers.
This entry was posted in Books, writing and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

8 Responses to Write on- When is the old murder still new?

  1. Practice. It’s why I write every day, Susan.

  2. crubin says:

    I agree–just as with anything, practice improves one’s writing. Seems common sense, but many believe that either you write well or you don’t. Although talent, of course, plays a role, most people’s writing can improve with practice.

    • I have such a hard time with the word practice. It feels like work and writing hour for hours on end? Just feels like a magical trip that I don’t want to ever end! 😉

      • crubin says:

        You’re right. Practice isn’t the best work. Perhaps it should be: Writers should allow themselves the privilege of writing every day. 🙂

  3. Quiller Couch. His very name sounds like a character in a Dickens novel, Susan….lovely post….

  4. And his pen name, Susan… Q! I do agree with the power of invention… we are all creators of some form or other! 😀

I'd love to hear your thoughts!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s