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Lithograph poster for The Empire Typwriter, by Lucien Faure, London, England, UK, 1897. Museum no. CIRC.586-1962

Lithograph poster for The Empire Typwriter, by Lucien Faure, London, England, UK, 1897. Museum no. CIRC.586-1962

The Museum and the Word

Whenever we go round a museum or gallery we talk to our companions and (silently) to ourselves. We reach for words to point out the things we see, to express the thoughts they stir up in us and the way they make us feel.

Most of the time our words are casually chosen, quickly lost. But there are times when we shape them into a more lasting form. We write an entry in a diary, we email a friend or send them a letter about what we have seen.

Sometimes our creative impulses take us further. We are inspired to write something more formal: a poem, a piece of fiction, a reflective essay or a personal memoir. Our response to a single object or picture may spark off a piece of writing. We may be moved to write something by seeing a lot of similar objects together in a gallery. Alternatively we may decide to write about the experience of visiting a particular museum.

The craft of writing

In order to write well we must pay attention to our senses. We need to absorb the world around us intensely and in detail. We visit a museum primarily to look at objects. But how much do we take in of what we see?

This creative writing project explores the process of producing a finished piece of creative writing. It is organised as a course that users can work through systematically. However, some users may prefer to dip into them for exercises and writing suggestions.

1. Looking

Learning to look carefully and describe what we see is only a beginning. We have to have something to say, ideas we want to express.

2. Feeling and reflecting
Through the power of the imagination we can move far beyond our immediate experience. Objects can spark off a story-telling urge. The people in portraits can tell us what's on their minds.

3. Imagining
Together with finding something to say, we need to think about the best way to express it. Looking for the right words and images takes patience. During this process it often turns out that a piece of writing changes. There are times when it ends up as something quite different to our original concept.

4. Shaping
Along the way decisions must be made about which literary form to use.

5. Finding a form
No piece of creative writing is finished until it has been given a proper polish. Every sentence, every word needs to be carefully considered to see whether it can be improved on.

6. Revising and polishing
Of course, the techniques described in these pages can be applied more widely. The section 7. Beyond the Museum offers some suggestions.

Gillian Spraggs and Deborah Tyler-Bennett

Go to Creative writing project: 1 Looking

V&A Innovative Leadership Programme

The V&A Innovative Leadership Programme is aimed at managers working in the arts & creative industries looking to develop new skills, insight and opportunity. Applications are now open for the next course.

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