How did they learn to write?


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Thread: How did they learn to write?

  1. #1

    How did they learn how to write?

    In the distant past there were no forums on writing, no (online) creative writing courses etc. So, my question is: how did, e.g. the author of Beowulf, or Jane Austen, or Shakespeare, learn how to write? Who was setting the standards back then?
    Last edited by Ken11; August 18th, 2019 at 12:01 PM.

  2. #2
    Nobody was setting the standards then and nobody is setting them now. There are no standards, it’s a myth. There is only what has and has not been done before. When we talk about “what works” we are talking exclusively about what has worked - what has been read and apparently appreciated.

    Shakespeare is a genius because his work discovered something new. It’s incumbent on every writer to try to do that. But no doubt his literary upbringing and it’s pressures were identical to ours. A smaller pool, different in style and genre, but otherwise the same. His audience had expectations, he grew up reading the canon of that time. He was likely every bit as intimidated and impressed by by the “standards” he perceived as having set by Chaucer or whatever as the average WF user is by Stephen King. The test for him then was the same as the test for us is now: Learn humbly from the best, then seek to kick their ass.

    People have been writing more or less since they crawled out from the caves and storytelling far longer. Writing is about as natural to people as breathing and eating. Nothing in the principle has changed.
    "If you don't like my peaches, don't shake my tree."

  3. #3
    How writers wrote in earlier times probably depended a lot on who could read. Certainly Shakespeare's works were predominantly scripts to be performed, not read. Maybe his sonnets were aimed at a specific reader and not necessarily intended to be appreciated widely. Also his works were in poetic styles, not plain everyday language, and those styles dated from long before. I don't know about Beowulf; was there such a thing as an original written version of it?

    If old stories were predominantly intended to be performed then obviously the reactions of audiences were immediately known and progressive improvements could be made. I doubt that there was ever any clear point at which a work ceased to be "in progress", unlike modern literature intended to be published in large quantities. Once printing became commonplace a different regime developed. Initial print runs were once financed by preordering, so the printer already had his money guaranteed before he started work. That was at a time when owning a large personal library was a status symbol, so there's no certainty that the people who preordered books even ever read them. It seems surreally odd to see in an old book a list of the people who bought it, but this was another way for those subscribers to advertise their affluence. Nowadays many relatively safe ways of writing stories are proposed simply to minimise the chance of time and money being wasted. The alternative is to find an angel investor who will support you while you work on your innovative masterpiece that ignores all the tried and tested approaches.

    For a long time the traditional stories were chivalric romances, but these fell out of favour and Cervantes famously ridiculed them with his novel Don Quixote. That is said to be when the modern style of novels became the trend. He was a contemporary of Shakespeare albeit older, so Don Quixote came out around the same time that Shakespeare wrote King Lear. Shakespeare was probably trying to be the Andrew Lloyd Webber of the era while Cervantes may have been aiming at being the Stephen King.

    Where does the evolution of literature take us now? Well, with high adventure and fantasies being so popular in books and on the screen now it looks like the old chivalric romances are back with us again. Sorry about that Cervantes. As Sir Galahad might famously have said, "I'll be back."
    'Sharing an experience creates a reality.' Create a new reality today.
    'There has to be some give and take.' If I can take my time I'm willing to give it.
    'The most difficult criticism that a writer has to comprehend is silence.' So speak up.

  4. #4
    They had buddies. Lol. "Sven, I love when you tell Beowulf everytime we come back from raiding but that bit with Grendel's mom just isn't that creepy."
    Cue 10th century nordic immigrant deciding to have Beowulf nearly get seduced by a hag-witch who lives at the bottom of a swamp that is actually LITERAL HELL, because that's fucking cool when you are a drunk Norwegian who just converted to Catholicism. And is still cool now
    Dead by Dawn!

  5. #5
    Quote Originally Posted by BornForBurning View Post
    They had buddies. Lol. "Sven, I love when you tell Beowulf everytime we come back from raiding but that bit with Grendel's mom just isn't that creepy."
    Cue 10th century nordic immigrant deciding to have Beowulf nearly get seduced by a hag-witch who lives at the bottom of a swamp that is actually LITERAL HELL, because that's fucking cool when you are a drunk Norwegian who just converted to Catholicism. And is still cool now
    Both the Danes and Saxons drank too much beer, as they do till this very day. I love your creativity and imagination as well as your bohemian nihilism, yet people should know that navigating at that tricky Atlantic did demand sobriety.
    Last edited by Ken11; August 19th, 2019 at 08:01 PM.

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