‘Writing is a conversation with oneself. Don’t you think?’ The tall, distinguished-looking gentleman in front of me in the book-signing queue swung around to murmur this to me. He smiled as I nodded in a sort of reflex acquiescence and just as suddenly he rotated back again to have his copy signed before he headed off into the night. I think he may have been German or Austrian – important only because his accent lent a particular elegance to his words which, well over two months later, continue to resonate.
I began to mull over his comment on my own way home that same night – and how exactly right it seemed to me. Because isn’t that where writing happens in that first instance? In the head? That conversation with yourself before you let it out to grow and mature in the sun, the rain – and, too often, the snow? It is not until I start to think about it from this particular perspective that I realise that perhaps my own writing isn’t as organic as I’ve previously maintained, that a lot of the work is done before my fingers even touch the keys.
I’m thinking now of the times when whole conversations or arguments lob back and forth between my characters like a ping pong ball in my brain before it even occurs to me to set them down. Sometimes, too, entire scenes wake me at horrid times like 3 a.m. and, because I’ve been fooled too often into thinking they’ll still be there in the morning, I make the effort to crawl out of my warm bed, head through the house to my desk and jiggle the mouse until the glaringly bright screen pops out of the dark. On a couple of other lucky occasions, I’ve been gifted a complete short story. Stemming from a comment my father had made years before, my awarded short story The Gambler came to me practically whole. Another time, the catalyst was a cardboard sign tacked to a tree that had caught my attention as I drove by – and by the time I had arrived home the first draft was ready to be transcribed.
It is only after this that our stories are ready to be shaped with the straggly bits pruned off, the sappy growths chopped out, the shoots below the graft rubbed off –and the whole process constantly fertilised as we read book after book after good book.
What do you think? How do you write? Is your process conscious or unconscious? If you have the time, please share your thoughts in the comments box below or you can contact me directly on firstname.lastname@example.org.
When to stop listening to your head
But there are times, too, to stop listening to your head – and that’s when fear of failure or negative self-talk starts to grumble in the still of Edgar Allan Poe’s dark night.
In that respect – in terms of overcoming fear in our creative lives – this podcast of Elizabeth Gilbert in interview with Marie Forleo is a real gem. As most of you know, Elizabeth’s first book was the bestselling Eat, Pray, Love – and Big Magic promises to be just as good. Follow the link at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HyUYa-BnjU8&feature=youtu.be Thanks to Tammy for forwarding.
Latest favourite reads
There is no doubt that we are lucky to be living in an era of first-class writing which, for me, is writing that is clever and stimulating which makes for exciting reading. I’ve read some terrific books this year; to add to these, two further, completely different, but absolutely cracking reads are: In the Light of What We Know by Zia Hader Rahman (recommended to me by a stranger in line at this year’s Sydney Writers’ Festival) and the Pulitzer Prize winner All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr.
Until next time — when I plan to tackle the difficult business of copyright. Meanwhile, happy reading and writing.
Photo: Getty Images