May 27, 2013

When you’ve had enough talk about writing…

I’ve had a busy cluster of days, attending sessions at the Sydney Writers Festival and listening to writers speak, going to a seminar for my PhD and catching up with friends and having interesting conversations. I feel like, now, I could just be alone with my thoughts and my laptop in a room for a week to digest it all, and to catch up on the writing which I feel I have been neglecting.

This is not what my laptop looks like

It’s a dilemma – because writing is such an isolated practice I go to these events to meet other writers and hear other writers and then while I’m sitting there I think to myself – ‘What the fuck am I doing here? I should be writing!’
Yet occasionally I have a moment where my thoughts coalesce into something useable, where someone says something that makes sense, something I can use to improve my own work. It’s a funny balance, an odd one, and one which I keep trying to adjust but haven’t yet perfected.
Some of those moments:

  • When Anita Desai compared short story writing to pottery, saying we have the material but ‘it has to be thrown in a certain way so that it turns out right’.
  • When Cate Kennedy at the same session said, ‘The one you feel most frightened of – that is going to be your best story.’
  • When Hannah Kent was talking about historical fiction and said that she would rather move events around to focus on human truth rather than historical accuracy.
  • When New Yorker literary critic James Wood talked about his love for drumming and how it provides an escape – from self-consciousness, from physical unease – into a kind of rebellious freedom.

But then I also seem to have a limit on these experiences, on how much of other people’s writing practice I can hear about and how much talk I can listen to. And once I reach that limit it makes me, for some reason, melancholy.
I was talking about this with a friend who is a visual artist on Saturday and he said it was a feeling he recognised. He said he prefers not to go to loads of galleries or listen extensively to artists speak about their practice. He said that it was often in exposing himself to other creative mediums that he was most inspired.
I’ve thought about that for a while. And I think there is truth there: I’ve had some of my best story ideas in art galleries, or looking at photography books, or listening to music, or watching a film. Just last night, watching Girls, admiring Lena Dunham and her guileless acting, her warts and all portrayal of 20-somethings in New York I thought how right she gets it sometimes, how I aspire to that fearlessness and honesty in my writing. When you can’t look away because it is all so compellingly real.
This is the crux, that sometimes the places we look for inspiration are the last places we’ll find it. And sometimes we need another medium – perhaps like James Wood and his drumming – to suspend that self-consciousness for a little while. To just shut off our inner critics and experience joy.


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