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.