The Theosophical Forum – January 1941

TO A NOVICE IN WRITING — Leoline L. Wright

About once a month on an average someone writes to me, or I hear someone say: "I wish / could write an article on Theosophy." Instead of replying: "Well then, why not go to it?" — let me make a few simple suggestions.

First of all as to material. Here, you cannot be new. Everything allowed at present to be known about the Esoteric Philosophy has already been said, and by the Teachers themselves. But remember this. Not one of these wonderful truths has yet been brought out in the light of your experience.

In that sense — providing you are writing what you think and feel and not what you have read in The Secret Doctrine or The Esoteric Tradition — in that sense alone you yourself have something new and highly worthwhile to say. No reader is going to be struck with mere repetitions from the Theosophical classics. He can read those for himself. And neither you nor I can possibly put these things as they have there been written once and forever. But your own thoughts about them; your own fresh-minted ideas brought from your individual use of them — there is the secret in the choice of fresh material in writing an article on Theosophy.

Second. Before starting your article lay aside your textbooks for a week or two and concentrate on a fresh point of view. So many Theosophists read nothing but Theosophical books. The result is that many of us go round and round in the same spate of cliches and figures of speech and expression until we are like caged squirrels in their eternal treadmills. In this way some of the grandest Theosophical phrases have become threadbare and almost wearisome.

One of the best preparatory exercises I know is to read the books of some of our great modern writers. And if you will tackle one or two on a subject you don't like, you will get a whole lot more out of it than if you just follow the trend of your own mentality. The reason being that the expressions used will be fresh to you. As an exercise in rich and virile English the works of Winston Churchill, the English Prime Minister, can be particularly recommended. Priestley is another gold mine. Search out some good writer, anyway, on a topic that is unfamiliar to you, and study closely the style and vocabulary. In this way you will free your mind from the too familiar treadmill of daily thinking.

Also, freshen up your sense of human values. Pay a visit to your local post office and take in the types; or sit for an hour or so in a public park or the zoo; take a ride on a popular bus-line — anything that will enable you to soak up the common human atmosphere of everyday people and their lives. Focus observation, sympathy, and imagination on the people and slight happenings which you may encounter. Then during the next day or two write out a description of your impressions. It is simple and persistent work of this kind that has laid the foundations of all great writing. The biographies of the masters of prose tell us that all of them habitually carried a notebook wherein to imprison the fugitive phrase or the chance scene.

Wasn't it Anatole France who once set his pupils to describe a certain tree with which they were all familiar? He told them to look at that tree and find something to say about it that had never been said before. Thus emphasizing that it is not through one's material — for there is nothing new under the sun — but in what the observer finds to say about it, that the masterpiece is constructed.

Do not be afraid to use color. And cultivate what the rhetoric books call "tropes" or figures of speech. That means you must try to make pictures, and dramatize rather than describe your material. The use of too many adjectives is fatal. Learn to choose nouns that imbody in their meanings the quality of the thing you are describing; and you won't need many adjectives. Choose verbs of action instead of just describing how a thing appeared to be done. Make your reader see what you mean.

Be careful, however, to keep your first articles close to your own life. Fill them full with illustrations from your daily experience. After all the true laboratory of life is found in the business office, the nursery, the kitchen, or the workshop. For in these common places it is that the average man or woman may begin to sprout the first few prickly pinfeathers of the wings of Initiation.

Theosophical University Press Online Edition