Chapter 7: Writing - the process / Cover of the book


Translated from the online collection catalogue of the Rijksmuseum:

A writer trimming his pen, Jan Ekels (II), 1784. The writer sits at a table by the window. Above the table is a mirror showing the man’s face. On the table is an inkstand, on the right a coat is draped over the chair.

While studying in Paris as a young man, Ekels came to appreciate 17th-century Dutch masters, such as Metsu and Ter Borch, who specialized in interior scenes with one or more figures. He made this painting, an example of this genre, upon returning to his native Amsterdam. Ekels probably never saw any work by Vermeer, but his use of light recalls the master’s style.

For all information provided in the online catalogue, click here, or on the picture above.


What does the writer depicted here by Ekels think or feel? The viewer's gaze is drawn to the double image of the front and back of the figure. The mirror in front of him symbolizes the idea that writing is a reflective activity. In the painting we see how the writer becomes aware of himself in two ways: in image and in writing. This self-awareness is necessary for a good writing process. If we want to write well, we not only need to have the ability to work in an effective way (and we can only do this by the grace of our self-awareness), but writing is also a process of alternating between working out new ideas and reflecting on what we have written so far. Writing works from the inside to the outside, and from the outside to the inside. Every time a writer takes up his quill, puts his pen on paper, or touches his keyboard, he enters into a dialogue with his own text.

Another aspect of Ekels' painting that deserves some attention are the writing utensils. Besides the quill that the writer is sharpening, we see an inkstand and some paper. This indicates the need for good preparation. Moreover, the obvious silence and the seeming peace of mind of the writer contribute to the pleasant working atmosphere that Ekels depicts here. A coat has been thrown over the chair; perhaps the writer did not want to wait too long to start his work.

Chapter 7 pays detailed attention to the preconditions for a successful writing process. A pleasant and well-equipped workplace is important, but even more important is a good mental preparation. With a number of tips, we point out the do's and don'ts of writing and give advice on how to deal with problems during the writing process. The interactive relation between the writer and what is written is central in the discussion of the iterative nature of the writing process, with its phases of preparing, determining content, writing, editing and finalizing. Although in principle good writers complete these phases in this order, they may sometimes take a preliminary step forward in the process or return to an earlier step. Another example in chapter 7 of the interactive nature of the writing process is the relation between the text schema and the emerging text. Good writers constantly move back and forth between these two. This way, they ensure that the one is always an adequate representation of the other. In doing so, good writers continue to also reflect on their work in a figurative sense - just like the writer in the painting by Ekels is literally reflected in the mirror.