Friday, 22 June 2007

The left, right, left right of writing

In October last year, I interviewed a local author for a paper I contribute to. He writes under the name of Sebastian Beaumont and had just had his first mainstream novel published,Thirteen . By that I mean he had had six other works previously published but they would all be classified as gay literature. (Strange how we like to classify, categorise, segment, divide and rule; read Michel Foucault’s Discipline and Punish: the Birth of the Prison for more on this theme.)

Apart from having the opportunity to review my first book – I summed it up as being ‘a psychological and textual tease’, and an excellent read it is – I looked forward to questioning Sebastian on how he set about his work. At the back of my mind, I was vaguely hoping to hear phrases like, ‘when I can be bothered’, ‘in an amphetamine-fuelled frenzied haze’ or ‘when the muse flutters down and settles on my shoulder’; indeed any phrase that would let me off the hook from writing something of length myself. But no such luck. The words he actually employed sent shivers across my keyboard; they were ‘discipline’ and ‘routine’.


“Damn,” I thought, “if I had wanted that I’d have joined the army.”

Routine is an anathema to me. I have spent my life avoiding any form of regimentation as I regarded it as the death of the creative idea. In one sense I still believe this to be true. You cannot manufacture or force creative ideas; they arise when your mind has defined all the parameters of the problem you face but not arrived at a logical deduction thereof, or writing would be the equivalent of mathematics in words. Creative solutions are Eureka moments. They arise when your concentration is elsewhere and some connection, or series of connections, is made in your subconscious, et voila, the solution; a unique solution, an original solution because the connections that were made happened in your head and were not mechanically grafted.

On the other hand, creative writing isn’t just about ideas.

There is that word ‘writing’ that implies some form of action. In the first place, writing per se may be regarded as a craft and as such requires practice and hard work. (To generalise, one can say the more one writes the better one writes, though this is not necessarily true for all: I once knew someone who wrote obsessively yet, despite possessing a startling imagination, everything he wrote read like an office memo.)

Within the context of creative writing, however, writing fulfils another function; it provides the parameters through which you create. By that I mean, as you progress so your characters become more sharply delineated by the events, situations or other characters they meet. It is part of the novelist’s job to create these events, etc. to help define the main characters. But as the characters take on dimension and colour so they themselves will help create new events in that they will act and react in a certain way to given situations. There is a poetic circularity to this form of creation.

My conclusion is the very act of writing generates the creative problems that need some form of inspiration to resolve. So if one wishes to write a novel, those dread words routine and discipline perform very necessary functions. Which is not say that you shouldn’t nip off to the wine bar or for a long walk when you become stuck for an idea.

I have discovered, for me, matters move along at a jauntier pace if I first write in longhand. The difficulty I have writing on-screen is that I am so used to writing shorter pieces I have this tendency to constantly self-edit, which means I am concentrating more on the craft than the flow. When I write longhand, I care less about my use of words or structure but become more entangled with my characters and their world.

6 comments:

Anonymous said...

dear david,
im writing you in longhand, beause i cant do it in shorthand anyway.
my english in written is as bad as your token french. but my token french will never be so good as your written english. my written french is so bad as my german. but even my token germann cant compete with your written english. but this is not important because the important thing behind is the idea. remember? thats the language we were talking, when we were working togheter.
i just dicovered your blog after i have spend a weekend in paris with my two girls 9and 11. we looked at the notre dame and i was talking about the old times. what a funny coinsidence. however you are right, even after working all thes years as a "creative" its still hard to get a great idea, but even harder making others belive in it.
and its not the shorthand work wich we do all day witch is making it great, only a little better.
big hug from z├╝rich
remy fabrikant

DOT said...

REMY!!! I am so excited to hear from you again. Goodness me and you have two young girls now. My two, if you remember them, are grown up now and one has a baby girl of her own.

I will have to think how to get in contact with you more directly.

Big hug from me.

Jon M said...

Hi dot,

I found writing in longhand was more akin to the act of reading strangely and ideas do seem to flow.
It also gets you away from the dreaded wordcount tool, a compulsion in itself.
Trouble is you have to type the bugger up then! :-)

hesitant scribe said...

Dot - I write longhand because my head doesn't process info the same if I use two hands to type. I can't seem to be as creative. I also doodle a lot when I write. And I put two lines on a page and then start again, and again, and again. It is dreadfully time consuming and messy, and I've tried to be 'good' and type in an orderly fashion, in neat straight lines, but my head won't let me. I don't go so much as left right left right, as up down round and round and flip flop fly away!

I think it drives my supervisor to distraction that my poor novel is in such a mess, but like my MA dissertation before it, it'll all come 'write' in the end. :)

Will come and explore your blog a bit more when I get a chance, but have to go teach now!

A bientot!

Zinnia Cyclamen said...

I nearly agree with you - but I do think it's possible to use techniques to generate creative ideas, in fact I know it is because I do it most days. Mindmapping and freewriting are two that I use frequently.

I'm hopeless in longhand, probably because I'm left-handed. I took to keyboards in the early 1980s with a great sense of relief, and have never looked back. The only things I write in longhand now are greeting cards, shopping lists and cheques.

DOT said...

It is interesting how we individually find our own means of building the wall, my metaphor for constructing a novel, dissertation or anything of length; it does seem to me to be exactly that, something that is assembled brick by brick.

The same is true of generating ideas, Zinnia. Having spent so many years in advertising I know how I best think laterally and the mind games I need to play. Equally I respect that other people set about the same task very differently. I suppose all I am saying is that each of us has to discover the means that best suit us and that can take some time, indeed, what suits one day may not be the most appropriate the next.