My friend and colleague Mazin Saleem tagged me in the Writing Process Blog Tour, a sort of literary Ponzi Scheme where writers answer a few simple questions about their creative process.
Mazin’s post from last week is on his fine Tumblr, and you can click back from that page to see earlier stops on the tour. Its growing into a fascinating collection: Read Katriona Lewis who tagged Mazin, or Ross Hopkins, nominated by Mazin alongside yours truly.
What am I working on?
Nothing. Zilch. Nada.
That might not be literally true. I do have a couple of saved Word documents taunting me in in ‘Writing’ folder: murder mysteries, the pair. Both were good ideas when I began to write them. But both are now rapidly curdling, I fear.
This fact yields an unexpected insight that fits perfectly into a ‘writing process’ post—I work most effectively when there is a deadline looming. I suspect that is true of a lot of writers but I worry that it is symptomatic of a lack of discipline or maybe my immaturity as a writer. I also worry that the only way I would ever get an entire novel written is if someone commissioned me (unlikely, for a first time novel) or I did NaNoWriMo.
I really wish I was one of those writers (like Ross) who have characters bouncing around inside them, demanding to be written. Such authors seem to be able to just blurt out a novel. I find them infuriating! They are also a challenge to my own literary pretentions—If I do not always have a character or a plot or an idea tormenting my waking hours, am I really a writer?
Something I have always found inspiring is the short acceptance speech made by Steven Soderberg in 2001, when he collected an Oscar for directing Traffic.
What I want to say is, I want to thank anyone who spends part of their day creating. I don’t care if its a book, a film, a painting, a dance, a piece of theatre, a piece of music… anybody who spends part of their day sharing their experience with us, I think this world would be unlivable without art, and I thank you…
Last year I uploaded a collection of Victorian portrait photographs to a set entitled ‘Harriet Bennett’s Photo Album‘. Swollen with the sharing spirit of the Internet, I gave the images a permissive Creative Commons Licience. My hope was that they might act as a prompt or support for other people’s creative projects.
The first instance of this hope being realised is ‘Papercuts and Curses‘ by Sam Meekings. It uses my scanned image of a young and now anonymous aquaintance of Harriet Bennett to illustrate a story about a young adventurer. Sam begins his story with a liberating broadside against an old writing cliche:
The standard advice to those thinking of becoming writers is to write what you know. The fact that this is clearly the most ridiculous and restrictive piece of advice imaginable does not seem to put people off from repeating it again and again. Edward Gregory Charles was determined to follow it to the letter: with the pragmatism typical of the late nineteenth century, he made it his mission to fill up his mind with experiences.
I just gatecrashed a meeting some of my colleagues were holding, about writers running workshops in UK prisons. One of the authors made the point that the term ‘creative writing’ can actually have a negative effect on the people attending these workshops, because it implies that writing is the only creative act.
What needs to be emphasised, he said, is that reading is a creative act too – Using your imagination to reconstruct the story and fill in the blanks, between the words the author has sketched. This is well worth remembering, lest we invest all our admiration in writers, and neglect the other half of the equation, readers.
There’s another kind of creativity in reading too, which is in choosing just what to read. Making connections between authors, and between their stories, constructing a network of books, choosing which literary pathway to follow – these are supremely creative acts too.