How I write – Joseph Vella Bondin
by Marie Benoît
Of course the way I write has evolved over the years and the present baring of my soul (very pleasant – talking about oneself is humanity’s favourite subject) is how I write now.
But some things have not changed. I cannot write unless I have a reason for writing – I need an incentive to stab and torture me. In bigger countries, the major incentive, the need for a writer to earn his living, is normally present. In Malta only journalists may survive by using words. But this is not my type of writing.
I do two types. My major concern is imaginary writing, predominantly drama, mostly in Maltese. I have just had my prize-winning plays Hitan bil-Moffa published. The other, into which I entered as a result of my life configuration, is factual writing, mostly about Maltese musicology, either in English or Maltese. But whatever the type, some ability to write creatively, honed by what one learns in class and from experience, must exist, probably an upshot of inherent genes.
Imaginary writing for me is substantially more difficult and the initial phase of pure creation, torturous and dilatory. Then why do I do it? Simple! It is a compulsion that does not leave me in peace. But once I become immersed, it becomes something out of this world – no other experience is quite like it.
I now realise I was fortunate to have been born when I was. For the second half of the last century, particularly after Independence, was a period when the setting of literary competitions was the order of the day and these acted as the spur to set me off. Of great value were the annual Rediffusion play-writing competitions. It was by regularly entering them that I mastered the craft. These competitions are now unfortunately no more.
I am not a prolific writer and my greatest (deeply envious) admiration is for those authors able to churn out a book almost weekly. Before I start writing, I go through a preludio. I switch on my computer (how did I cope before?), read my e-mails, assess ESPNsoccernet.com on my two favourite foreign teams, Arsenal and Chelsea. Then I take out my chief tools of trade from my bookcases – Aquilina’s Dictionaries (all six volumes), Rodale’s The Synonym Finder and Collins English Dictionary – and put them neatly on my bed, adjacent to my computer desk.
But during this (what may seem a fatuous) process, my mind is actually coping with the problem of formalising and moulding abstract ideas in concrete sequential words and phrases. Often the best ideas come not when I’m in front of my computer but when I’m busy doing something else. I have learned to keep a pencil and paper to jot them down before they go back to the subconscious. But at that stage, they are just ideas and have yet to be given flesh and meaning within the context of what I am writing or what I plan to write.
It may take me two or three hours to put down perhaps 100 words. Often choosing a word is a long process involving substituting one with another until I hit on the one I feel apposite. It is not a matter of whether the word is in everyday speech or rarely used. It is a question of a word sounding right. It thus boils down to its musicality within the total musicality of the phrase or sentence – perhaps a corollary of my training as singer, learning to appreciate the natural musicality of a language. The right word is not only a question of meaning but also of sound.
Over the years, I have come to appreciate that what I initially write is not like manna falling from heaven to the utter ravishment of a public hungrily waiting for my magnum opus. And this is one of the realisations (hard as any truth), which a writer has to accept. So now to the most vital phase.
I try to forget what I have written, let my subconscious work on it in its quiet way. Days later, I go back to it. I prune, change, delete – a great deal – and finally check the fluidity of development. And when what I have written reads as if somebody else more able than I has written it then I know that my task is over.
An example? The initial version of this piece was more that 1,500. It is now half that length. So, that is how I write.