Creating a Text

Another one from the archives. This piece was first published on John Baker’s Blog

What phases are involved in the creation of a text?

I have created texts of all kinds and have published poetry, short stories and a novel. I have also written and produced stage plays and short films and completed television and film scripts. Despite this extensive experience, the creation of a text is still something of a black art to me. For example I remember getting up early one wet Sunday morning back in 1999 and scribbling away like a maniac until mid-afternoon. What emerged was a one act play called “Tossers”. I spent the rest of the day typing it into the computer. I’ve still got the original hand-written manuscript and there is no difference between that and the finished play. I put the play in a drawer until 2004 when I submitted it to a theatre company. Tossers was staged in Chapter Arts Centre in Cardiff as part of their On The Edge series. I had nothing to do with the production apart from turning up on the night to watch it. As far as I could tell, not a word was changed and the staging was exactly as I had imagined it when it was created.

I’ve no idea where the play came from; the only phase involved in its creation was the physical act of getting it out of my head and onto the paper. But, Tossers aside, in the best traditions of academic analysis I present the following acronym to define the phases involved in the creation of a text:

WRITER = Watch, Record, Inspiration, Toil, Edit, Release

For any text to have validity it must be based on truth, and truth is derived from what we experience through our senses and our emotional and intellectual response to that experience. Sitting in front of the television or reading a classic novel is not good enough. No matter how engaging the programme is or how brilliant the book is, it’s a second-hand experience filtered through someone else’s set of myths and prejudices. A writer must watch; must observe real life in all its gory glory.

Watching on its own may increase your understanding of the human condition but in order to create a text you must record your observations. Manifestations must be recorded; this could be in the form of notes on paper or of mental notes to yourself.

Sometimes inspiration seems to come out of nothing; your mind processes your observations and tries to make sense of them, it needs to make a story out of the characters and events it encounters. This processing takes place consciously and subconsciously in varying proportions and eventually inspiration comes, but it doesn’t come from nowhere, inspiration is earned.

So you have watched, recorded and found your inspiration. Now those raw materials have to be organised into strings of words that convey the meaning of the story to others. This takes work; you have to toil to get those sentences out in a meaningful way.

The words are on the paper or the screen but they are still a bit raw and clumsy, and there are gaps that need bridging or repetitions that need culling. The text has to be edited, it has to be groomed and pimped until it is in a form that is enjoyable for others to read.

There is a Zen koan that asks: “If a tree falls in a forest and there is no one there to hear it, does it make a sound?” There is no logical answer to that question of course, but if a text is put in a drawer or left in an obscure folder of a hard drive and no one reads it, it does not exist as a text. The final phase in the creation of a text is its release into the public domain; it has to be published in some way. Tossers sat in a drawer for five years before it became a text. It did not complete its journey until it was released.

Come to think of it, even Tossers had to go through all of the above phases; it’s just that it happened to go through most of them in a burst of creativity on a wet Sunday in 1999.

Tossers is a surreal black comedy and plays out in about twenty minutes; please contact me if you want to read it.


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