Plotting

The more I talk and think about actually, concretely starting to write creatively, the more it feels that I’m being dragged over a precipice. The more I feel the need to write, the more preoccupied by it I become and the more difficult it becomes not to start. I have to wait until things are in position, though, precisely for that reason. The vertigo is such that I need to make time available so as not to have to stifle a thing that has just started to breathe. That would be much worse than the potential energy of the not-yet, which has some charm in itself while it quietly builds actual writing momentum.

I was at an event last night talking about writing and creativity, and someone asked me if I had a story yet. Certainly last night I didn’t. I had concepts, characters perhaps, moments, and a sense of written voice and momentum. It’s rather odd to feel those things coalescing gradually around a non-story.

I am sure I’ve got it backwards. People who go on creative writing courses, I’m sure, come out with concrete and organised ways to write. For me, I know it has to gradually pool into little solid sections in my mind before it begins to look like a ‘story’. The very word causes me difficulties as it feels inauthentic before I’ve even started, which means that anything I craft would come across as being inauthentic if I can’t believe in it myself.

I’ve always known I can evoke things through words. The problem with creative writing, to my mind, has always been the seeming artificiality of hanging concepts, emotions, experiences, onto a fictional framework. I’ve always known I would need to allow the ideas their own poetic licence to structure their own ‘story’, and that’s the direction from which it would function.

Neither do I want to be too abstract, which would be one solution to this aversion to ‘story’. I can’t be too self-indulgent in that sense, as however powerfully evoked the thoughts, they would have no coherence without a narrative thread of sorts. I want the reader to enter a credible universe, and to experience it, because that’s the point of literature to me, so that has to be the kind of literature I would want to contribute to the world.

Neither can I be straightforwardly autobiographical, because life is such that it would complicate things. So, interestingly, today some of these things have crystallised (while driving, working, walking). I think I may have found a way to play with my autobiography and to explore the ‘what-if’ while clothing it in the ‘what-has-been’. The key, it seems, is to draw on what I have experienced in order to describe what I could have experienced, or what I can simulate as a result of what I’ve learned. It might be about looking at how some emotions are the same as others – use the same neurons or spark the same connections. I had this thought a few days ago when I tweeted that missing something you’ve had is the same emotion as missing something you’ve never had. Exploring that paradox alone is a chapter in itself (to me).

This is probably very obvious to anyone who has studied creative writing, so please bear with the clumsy fumblings towards a novel. It will be a novel, and it’s been a long time in the coming. And these ramblings don’t mean a lot, by themselves. They are more a waste product of the process as I am stumbling through it.

To explain, by publicly working through the process it commits me to it, which I need, and it externalises the thought process, which I also need. Twitter is the same. ‘Parking’ a thought in a public space is a commitment to that thought while simultaneously being willing to discard it. It’s like placing a firm finger on something that’s wriggling, to stop it moving for now. I might let it go again to wiggle away, or I might pick it up and use it. But for now it’s there locked in the Twitter stream.

I’m very touched that my oldest and best friend is seeing me starting to fearfully ride a writing wave, and has sent me something with a profound writing-thought attached to it. I’m off to have another read of that thought.

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2 comments

  1. Clumsy fumblings are both poetic and where we all begin, so no apologies! The practice of writing gets you where you need to be. Also, for unique autobiography: Pam Houston, Abigail Thomas and Lawrence Sutin.

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