I met a young writer recently. Well, an aspiring writer because, by his own admission, he had yet to write anything. He called himself a writer and seemed pretty convinced that was what he ‘truly’ was. He was merely waiting for ‘the right story to arrive’. Something, he said, that would move him sufficiently to write well.
I also met an old writer. She’d had a novel on the go for many years. It was unfinished because it wasn’t yet ‘perfect’.
I guess these are both valid ways to approach the glorious business of writing, but they seem to me to be self-defeating, and to have little to do with creativity. They rely heavily on the concept of there being something out there – perfectly formed, pristine, and just out-of-view! The writer’s task, apparently, is to manoeuvre into a position where they can catch a glimpse of the completed article, and quickly transcribe it to paper (or screen) before it disappears again. Or to keep hacking away at the ‘nowhere-near-good-enough’ item that has arrived, in the belief that a writer of real value can change it into that mysterious, beyond reach, immaculate conception.
There is little here about letting creativity unfold, about exploring where something might go, about stepping into the unknown and taking an adventure.
When I write, I just write. And mostly, I write rubbish. And that’s okay. Because it seems to me that it is in the process of writing, that writing well becomes possible. I rarely know where my writing is going, which characters are going to turn up on the page, what they will say. Rather than searching around for the ‘perfect’ scenario, or waiting for inspiration to arrive, I set off on my travels, writing rubbish, writing rubbish, writing … oh! that’s interesting.
I follow the golden thread to see where it leads. I listen for which words come next. I watch to see what happens and write about what I see. In Ursula Le Guin’s words, “I go there and look around.”
I feel very strongly that if I’ve already made up my mind about what I want to unfold, then I’m limiting the possibilities of what might appear. The creative process should be one of negotiation, I think – between me, working from my heart, my head, my intuition, and the story that is offered from some mystical place of which I have no knowledge. Until, that is, I start writing.
For it is in the very process of writing – and writing freely – that the gift of the story arrives. It definitely feels like a mystical process to me. It’s as if my willingness to write rubbish – to not judge what comes out of my pen as it glides across the paper – allows the unknown to become manifest. It seems to form as I write. The writing itself is somehow the trigger that allows the words to arrive.
And what if what I end up with is rubbish, too? Well, why would that matter? It’s all part of the journey and I can always just throw it away!