Friday, February 04, 2005

ruminations on writing

Last night I started reading Heather Sellers' new book Page After Page. (Intro here).

One of her main messages is that you need to treat your writing like the most important thing - the lover in the center of your life. (Chapter 3 "Lover on the Side, Lover in the Center"). Now I have a little problem with that. Because, you see, I already have a lover - it’s Jesus. And I’ve struggled against my natural tendency to make writing my lover for so long, I’m weary of the fight and don’t need another skirmish. So I take her advice there with salt - largish doses.

But I’ve found lots of good stuff in it too (and I’m only till chapter 5).

One thing that resonated with me is how she says you have to nourish two parts of yourself at the same time:

"Writers have to be very secretive. They also have to be very communal. Successful writers learn how to navigate between the two states....The yakking you is just as important as the quiet you. The trick...is to be able to choose and conjure the appropriate productive state on command." (P.21 from Chapter 2 "Writing You Don’t Do It Alone").

On the secretive side, I’ve learned you have to keep quiet about projects that are germinating inside you. Talking about them too much – at all sometimes – lets out the air so when you go back to your desk to write, your balloon is flat. All the tension, the urgency to write it is gone - you’ve used it up in talking.

I did this once. I had this fabulous idea for a novel - was simply bursting with it. I kept it a secret for a long time. But one day the little voice inside that often said - Try it out. It needs some testing. You need to check and see if it’s really as good an idea as you think - got the better of me. I told one person, and then another, and another... Maybe that’s why it still sits in a binder half formed (together with the fact that I really need to go to - HA!- Egypt to do some on-the-spot research to get the ambience right!).

The bold and open side of writing has caused me some inner angst. I discovered that even though most of my life I thought of myself as someone shy and introverted, there came a time I had to gag that shy, sly voice which kept whispering in my ear: This public display is so out of character for you. To be a happy, contented, well-adjusted writer, I found I also needed to grab the mic, step up to the podium and get used to the sound of my voice - on the page, the computer screen.

This public part is not without its risks though, from praise (now I have a standard to live up to), to silence (nobody cares - what’s the use?), to misunderstanding, to even outright criticism (yikes, I’d better shut up!). It’s important to be prepared in order not to lose one’s equilibrium – ever heard of ‘writer’s block’? Even in the blog world (maybe especially in the blog world) the words you write can evoke responses you never envisioned.

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