With no disrespect intended to those who knit creatively, Terry was fulminating against a mechanical view of writing as simply a matter of looping and knotting together lines of pre-ordained thought. In his experience, such views were likely to be held by those who'd never struggled to write, who'd never attempted to convey their own truths in poetry or prose, nor ever found, in composing, how thoughts can turn and deepen unexpectedly.
George Orwell, a writer whom the current Secretary of State for Education admires, said this in 1946:
“Everything in our age conspires to turn the writer … into a minor official, working on themes handed to him (sic) from above, and never telling what seems to him the whole of the truth.”
He went on to describe how publishers feed the appetite for mechanical writing by selling cheap, ready-made plots. “Some, together with the plot, supply the opening and closing sentences of each chapter. Others … a sort of algebraic formula by the use of which you can construct plots for yourself. Others offer packs of cards marked with characters and situations, which have only to be shuffled and dealt in order to produce ingenious stories automatically. It is probably in some such way that the literature of a totalitarian society would be produced, if literature were still felt to be necessary. Imagination – even consciousness, so far as possible – would be eliminated from the process of writing.”
from ‘The Prevention of Literature’: ('George Orwell- Essays'. Penguin Classics 2000. ISBN 0-14-118306-3)
Orwell saw a society's attitude towards writing as a barometer of its political freedom. Those who cared to preserve democracy against totalitarianism, had best be vigilant. “ Wherever there is an enforced orthodoxy … good writing stops.”
NWP outreach director