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Does Writing "Repetition" Mean It's Time To Quit?

by The Procrastinating Writer on April 16, 2009

courtesy of fuzzcat

courtesy of fuzzcat

By Jennifer Blanchard

There was a bit of an uproar in the writing community today when it became more well-known that award-winning English author, Margaret Drabble, said she was giving up writing fiction because she’s afraid of repeating herself.

In the Guardian newspaper article published on April 14, 2009, Drabble was quoted as saying, “What I don’t like is the idea that I’m repeating myself without knowing it, which is what old people do endlessly. The numbers of times I’ve heard people tell the same stories – the numbers of times I’ve told the same stories – and you don’t really want to start doing that in novels, when somebody can say hmm, you wrote that in 1972.”

She then related this thought to an incident that occurred while writing her most recent novel, The Pattern in the Carpet, which tells the story of her aunt finding a horse’s head in a garbage dump and feeding bits of it to her dog.  Drabble said she couldn’t remember whether or not she’d already used that scene in a previous novel, which made her feel like it was time to give up fiction.

“The fact that I can’t remember whether I’ve used it or not means the barrier, the line between writing and remembering and thinking, is more blurred for me than it used to be,” Drabble said in the article.

I am absolutely floored that someone would give up fiction for fear of being repetitive. It almost sounds to me like she’s having a difficult time with getting older and is therefore turning that into a fear of being repetitive in her fiction (because she mentioned in the article that old people are always repeating themselves).

I think her fans would’ve forgiven her if she did repeat something from one of her past novels. She is only human, after all. Some of her fans might not even have remembered the scene or might not have read the previous book.

Also, I’ve seen a lot of my own favorite authors repeat things–small things–and it never bothers me.

I think as writers it IS our job to present new ideas…but if you really think about it, how many ideas can you say are actually “new” anymore? Not very many. Most situations, ideas and scenarios have been done over and over and over again. I think the thing that differentiates it is a different perspective. Seeing the same old thing through a new character’s point of view.

I think as long as a writer is coming up with new characters and new angles on the same old thing, they’ll be just fine.

On the other hand, I respect Drabble for her decision. Not because I agree with it, necessarily, but because I am a believer in a person doing what is right for them, even if no one else agrees or understands.

What do YOU think, Procrastinating Writers? Do you agree with Drabble’s decision? Would you make the same decision to quit fiction if you thought you were being repetitive?

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

1 mjdoyle April 18, 2009 at 5:27 pm

I agree that it’s her decision, and her career, and therefore only she can decide what’s right for her. However, it is the subtle repetitions in our writing that make our individual styles unique.

Like you, Jennifer, I too have seen many novelists repeat scenes and/or character traits, but it is always with a different twist or context that lends itself to the story.

Even if Drabble did repeat herself and wrote again about her aunt finding a horse’s head in a garbage dump and feeding bits of it to her dog, I’m sure the difference in context and in her memory of the incident would make the scene sound anything but repetitive.

We write from within us, and our take on life changes with each new day. I believe if we all feared repeating ourselves, we’d never put pen to paper.

2 How I Was Able to Lose Thirty Póunds in Thirty Days May 6, 2009 at 3:39 am

Hi, nice post. I have been pondering this topic,so thanks for sharing. I’ll definitely be subscribing to your site. Keep up great writing

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