Writing Warm-Ups with Edna O’Brien ~ Gatherings from Ireland # 266

Edna O’Brien is undoubtedly the Irish writer who made the strongest impact on me as a teenager and I have continued to admire her greatly over the years.

Edna O'Brien Source: http://www.nndb.com
Edna O’Brien
Source: http://www.nndb.com

I suppose it’s fair to say that I idolised Edna O’Brien from the moment I read her first book The Country Girls, when I was about fifteen. The book had been banned in Ireland on its release in 1960 because it was seen to be at odds with Irish sexual morals.  My mother was also a great fan of hers and The Country Girls was waiting for me in the glass-fronted bookcase that housed her favourite books.

As well as her literary talent, I loved Edna O’Brien’s style and would have given anything to share her layered locks, stunning looks, captivating voice and a courage and vulnerability that made, and continue to make, her exceptionally interesting and just plain different!

Yesterday, I was reading an Irish Times article about the now 82-year-old O’Brien http://www.irishtimes.com/culture/books/edna-o-brien-i-would-die-now-if-tomorrow-morning-i-could-not-write-1.1547524  and was intrigued to learn about how she ‘warms-up’ before writing:

I have to read something astonishing beforehand. Very often it is a poem, or it can be a scene from Shakespeare that is absolutely dynamic and contagious in that it gives one a longing to write something that isn’t totally a dud. (Edna O’Brien)

I just wonder how many writers, or indeed other professionals, adopt such an approach. I would have thought that reading something ‘astonishing’ would be enough to bring on a severe dose of  writer’s block and a sense of  ineptitude. However, it’s a practice I’m going to put on trial for a while with the hope that some of Edna O’Brien’s brilliance will rub off on me.

Is this a practice that you use or what do you do to get the creative juices flowing?

Author: socialbridge

I am a sociologist and writer from Ireland. I have worked as a social researcher for 30 years and have had a lifelong passion for writing. My main research interests relate to health care and I love to write both non-fiction and poetry.

8 thoughts on “Writing Warm-Ups with Edna O’Brien ~ Gatherings from Ireland # 266”

  1. Lovely post on EOB. Sometimes creative writing students tell me they’re afraid to read great works in case of being intimidated or influenced by them. I always encourage them to see how reading good literature will fill their own imaginations and how their own subconscious processes will inevitably transform the images, emotions & ideas in what they’re reading into something fresh and original and they’ll be itching to write. Love that ‘contagious’ description

    1. Hi Valerie, thanks for your kind words. I agree fully with you about reading great works but I’m not so sure about reading them right before sitting down to write oneself.

      It reminds me somewhat of days when I played a lot of competitive tennis and one thing that inevitably made me play badly was watching a video of some of the world’s leading players just before gracing the court!

      What do you feel about the ‘timing’ of the reading that EOB suggests? Is it something you practice just before settling down to write?

      1. Good point, Jean. Yes, I would sometimes do it directly before settling down to write. However I would tend to read something completely unrelated to my story, poem, etc, in progress. I suppose that prevents the possibility of too much similarity happening, at least for me anyway, yet the stimulation of the ‘something astonishing’ can still happen.

    1. Hello Suz, seems like you and Valerie are at one on this but again I raise the issue of timing? Have you found reading something brilliant just before writing to be helpful?

  2. Definitely not! Far too intimidating. What does inspire me though is location. I imagine a walk along some of the cliffs you’ve shown us or just contemplating some of the rock formations in the bays would do the trick

    1. Hi Vanessa, thanks for writing. Yes, I think location is extremely inspirational. Only (good) problem with the walk before writing is that one can tend to walk a lot further, especially around here, than one meant!

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