When writers talk to me about the ‘energy flows’ of their writing space, or the purity of the vibes in their study, or the necessity of being in a state of zen before they can centre themselves to create, I tend to want to vomit. While one part of me says ‘each to their own’, the part that gets irritated by people trying to make writing mysterious starts snarking on about the fact that it would rather like to examine some entrails to see what is in store for the day – preferably, the entrails of a moron who needs to ‘centre’ before work can commence.
I get the concept, I really do, and I think meditation is actually quite a good idea. It’s just the way people talk about it that gets me. Mediate. Go ahead, but just do it. Don’t dress it up as something half miraculous… And don’t dress writing up like that either.
Writing is many things but most of them aren’t mysterious if we’re not trying to pamper our lazier tendencies… or trying to exclude people. The mysteries of writing can only be mysterious if a select few – and only a select few – are clued in. I’d rather like to think that everyone could be clued in. Believing this should be a prerequisite if you also teach writing, though a fair few writer-teachers don’t seem to agree. I suspect most of these people are only teaching to make money on the side because writing often doesn’t pay enough. Which is fine, but if you’re going to teach you need to do it with decent principles rather than in a state of petulance that your last advance wasn’t six figures.
Of course, no matter what their teacher believes, some people will be good at writing and some won’t be, with varying levels of goodness and badness in between. But there’s no reason for the enterprise of putting pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard) to be this weird thing shrouded in rites and rituals and secret handshakes and, most horrid of all, secret clubs where you’re in or you’re out.
Writing is about putting words on a page. It is both as simple and complicated as that. But there’s no reason it can’t be democratic – or at least a meritocracy: open to all who are good at what they do, whether that’s writing novels, fanfic or blogposts.
There is ‘magic’ in writing but it’s not the magic of a study’s vibrations or The Perfect Pen. It’s the magic of turning something in your imagination into words that will recreate that imagined something (or an equally interesting imaged something) in the mind of a completely separate human being. That’s pretty magical all on its own, if you think about it: the closest to telepathy as we currently get. What more magic do we need?
Another good reason to do away with the concept of the mysteries of writing is writers’ block. This is equally unmagically. It’s not some pseudo-illness that other people just can’t understand because they’re not true artists [sniff, sniff, wail: my tortured soul, etc. etc,]… It’s simply a problem with the process of getting words on the page, usually because you don’t actually know what you’re doing with a specific project yet and haven’t blindly stumbled on the right answer through pure dumb luck so have to actually work at it. That’s something that happens to all writers all the time. The thing that makes one person a ‘real’ writer and another not is that the ‘real’ writers just get on with the hard work of figuring out where they’ve gone wrong… or they turn to a new project, taking a break to get some perspective on the old one. Either way, ‘real’ writers get on with the act of putting words on the page.
And there we lead into why I find the idea of having to ‘centre one’s energies to get the creative zibbles flowing smoothly’ such a lot of rot. Meditate to clear your mind because you’re plagued with self doubt: a great idea! Do a bit of yoga or karate or go for a walk to give yourself time to climb out of the real world and into the world of the book: absolutely, go for it! But don’t see it as some weird magic ritual.
Everyone’s inner writer has a delicate ego. But that doesn’t mean it should be pandered to and inflated by silly means. I generally prefer the word ‘writer’ over ‘author’ because it comes from the verb: a writer is a person who writes. Who puts words on a page. End of story.
Or rather, the beginning…
I enjoyed reading your blog. The romantic ideal of artistic juices flowing as we sit with feather quills writing dreamily in the attic is spoon dispelled after the trials of proof reading and the tedium of endless re -reading and checking. The thrill of the flash of an idea is still amazing but the process requires discipline which is not alqays conducive with the creative process.
I love the uncomplicated pleasure of the idea stage, but the best bit for me happen in editing, when the book as I want it to be starts to emerge and the words start to lock into place in the right ways: that feeling of having actually transferred something from your brain to the page in words I like… But it’s as much relief and exhaustion at that stage after all the hard work! 🙂
Thanks for the reply. I think that confidence with editing must come with experience. I know what you mean, but need more practice. I have started my second book and have already learnt so much.
🙂 When my Creative Writing students ask, I generally say that you should aim to write a million words as practice before you try to write some publishable ones. Obviously it’s a rule of thumb but it’s a pretty reasonable one. The example I give in class is that if you wouldn’t expect a pianist to play a concerto through from start to finish for the first time at an actual performance, then why would someone who wants to write a novel think that they didn’t need to practice the act of writing a long enough coherent story to build up their stamina so that they could then try to write a good enough novel-length story. Practice is never wasted. And you never know which manuscripts you may choose to go back to. My second book is a story that I’ve been writing versions of since I was 13. It’s changed a lot, but then so have I! 🙂
Many thanx for your reply and advice, much appreciated. I take your point about practicing the art of writing. I feel hopeful that I cut my first teeth whilst doing my degree, but really began with poems when I was 7. Thank you for your reply. We are so fortunate to have this forum . It’s great to feel connected as writing can be so isolating.
I totally agree with you Lexi. The dressing up of any creative process irks me too. A similar comparison is film directing – people would have you believe it’s a difficult job, for “a select few”. I can tell you it’s a walk in the park compared to the process of writing a book. Orson Wells famously learned the “language” of film directing in a few hours with the cameraman of Citizen Kane. There are creative people who have natural ability, sure, but writing, film-directing, painting, can all be learned and accomplished to any standard simply with hard graft. I would suggest vituoso musicianship is the only possible exception – I don’t think the highest level is achieveable without innate musicianship.
Thanks so much for coming to visit and commenting! 🙂 I do believe in innate talent and I do think that, when it comes together with graft, that’s when people reach the pinnacle of achievement in their field… but I also agree that with enough hard work a lot of people can reach a very high level of achievement. And after all there’s no ‘test’ to measure talent: all we have is subjective judgement on that score, so unless you’re a true ‘genius’ in your field it’s impossible to be sure how much you’ve got. But everyone can work hard: that’s objective and the one thing we can control. Plus achievement is always more to be admired when it comes with effort, though for some reason our society seems to think it’s more exciting and better when it comes with ease. Not sure what that says about our values!