A Pattern For Writers? (Safety note: No spiders included)


The web, then, or the pattern: a web at once sensuous and logical, an elegant and pregnant texture: that is style, that is for the foundation of the art of literature.

So wrote Robert Louis Stevenson (1850-94) in The Art of WritingYou can download the full text in various formats at this link.

Anyway I’ve taken the liberty of adding a visual aid to go with the quote so we writers can be absolutely clear about what we are supposed to be aiming for.

Actually for me this image says more about the snaggled webs that are my thought processes – all sorts of knotty, misshapen bits, unwanted intrusions, and many dropped stitches. Oh yes, and also fog-bound. And if you look at the photo with X-ray eyes you will just make out a more finely woven web overlapping the larger web – their centres more or less aligned in the upper third of the image.  I’m good at doing that too – getting two separate works mixed up with each other so they are impossible to pull apart. So today, you can tell, the writing has not been going well – all hitched up and back-to-front, and too many projects stitched in one.

But as I said – it’s something to aim for – this sensuous, logical web. And the ‘do-over’ is ever an option. Time to unravel the messy bits then, re-string the loom and get weaving. And to all fellow writers out there – may your threads remain untangled and the elegant and pregnant texture be with you.

P.S. I always find myself fascinated by the fact that Robert Louis Stevenson was a rebel writer, broken away (in the face of domineering paternal ambition) from a dynasty of obsessive compulsive, but oh so intrepid, and brilliant lighthouse builders. I feel this may tell us something important about his work.


This web is also for Jude at The Earth Laughs In Flowers because she says she likes webs. She is looking for macro and close-up garden photos this month.

…of creation’s imperative

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Snow at Easter! I took this photograph last week as the slightest thaw began. Earlier that day, the buds had loomed beneath the ice crust, looking like blood spots rising from the earth. But then the sun came out and the tulips, red-hot, burned their way out, leaving smooth hollows in the snow. For me, as voyeur, the wind was biting cold and I was soon frozen through. I dived indoors whining at the unseasonal frigidity, and then as ever, in whining-writer mode, began to take the tulips’ triumphal expression personally. What about my own creative impulse? Why cannot I manifest my intentions with such exuberance, and with such elegant economy? And under such extreme weather conditions too?

And so as one thing leads to another, I thought of Robert Louis Stevenson bemoaning how writers alone among artists are “condemned to work in mosaic with finite and quite rigid words” (The Art of Writing), or how the true author knows how “to judge his own stuff’s worth, without pity, and destroy most of it” (Colette). Or how if I were Tolstoy I would only ever write if I could dip my pen in the inkpot and leave behind a shred of my own flesh (and thus write later only from the stew of my own life force perhaps?) Then I uploaded the photo and studied it on my computer screen. Isn’t there a story, I thought, that begins with a silent, winter’s world, and a queen sitting and sewing at her castle window and, as she pricks her finger on the needle, three drops of blood fall into the snow…

text 2013 Tish Farrell

Trakai Island, LithuaniaPhoto by anjči from London, UK [CC-BY-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Trakai Island, Lithuania
Photo by anjči from London, UK [CC-BY-2.0] via Wikimedia Commons