The creative process
I’ve never had what some might call ‘writer’s cramp’.
Sometimes I sit down at my computer to write my weekly blog with no idea what I am going to write about.
Yesterday was just such an occasion, but even though I struggled to think of something to write about, I have always found that if I just start writing anything – no matter how trivial, or pointless, or ‘off the wall’ it may seem to be – that within a few minutes, the creative juices will start to flow and before I long, I will have written hundreds, even thousands of words.
It never takes me long to get into the ‘zone’ and that has always been a good indication to me that writing must be ‘in my blood’- otherwise I wouldn’t be able to sit down at my key board for hour after hour, day after day, and produce hundreds of thousands of words without having a nervous breakdown. Once I am in that zone, I seem to be switched off to all external influences around me and the words simply flow, often without me noticing the passage of time, or the extent of my output.
The spiritual guru, Eckhart Tolle, tells us in ‘The Power of Now’ that anyone who is deeply involved in a task that they enjoy or are committed to – be it a creative pursuit , like writing or painting, or even a regular job with no creative element – that they have entered the ‘now’ zone and are free from thoughts of the past and worries about the future.
When we are in that zone, nothing disturbs our spiritual well-being – much like Buddhists and others seek through mediation.
I find that the hardest part of the ‘creative’ writing process, (fiction or non-fiction), is editing and proof reading. These tasks take at least as long as it takes to write the original document, and often much longer.
When I edit my work, I am usually back in that ‘zone’. The editing process and the re-writing starts to flow just like the original writing did, but I still find it quite a hard task.
The raw manuscript, which has been transcribed from my brain onto my computer screen at the rate of knots, now has to be edited into something that is intelligible, grammatically correct, and cogent; ultimately something which will hold the reader’s interest.
The editing exercise becomes even more arduous upon the second, third, and even a fourth reading. I am aware that the text is not quite right, but sometimes I struggle to find just the right words and phrases that convey my precise feelings and thoughts to the reader.
In spite of all my assiduous editing, I always have nightmares about the ‘typos’ and other silly spelling and grammatical errors that I fail to spot – no matter how many times I review the manuscript..
And in case you are wondering; no – Microsoft’s spell-checks and grammar-checks do not spot everything. In fact, they often do the opposite: indicate that a word is misspelt or a sentence is grammatically incorrect when it is actually correct.
However many times I look at a piece of my writing, I will often miss glaring errors, and only become aware of them when someone points them out, or when I return to it after several months and read it with ‘fresh eyes’. Then, all the errors jump out at me, but by that time it is often too late as the manuscript has already been published.
Certainly all my published works contain errors that I failed to spot at the time.
Last week I mentioned that I have recently joined a small writing group that meets in Pattaya every Friday. I am not sure quite what I expected, but what I didn’t expect in my wildest dreams was that along with the other members, I would be asked to write short pieces of narrative and/or short stories during the course of the 2 hour meeting.
In the three meetings that I have attended, we have been given around 10 minutes to produce one piece of writing based on a specific ‘theme’ and later have been given 20 minutes to expand that ‘theme’ into a longer piece of narrative.
I have been surprised by how easy it has been to produce a piece of writing within these tight time limits and in such an environment.
I have always felt that I needed to be alone, at my desk, at home before the creative juices would start to flow. Surprisingly, I have not experienced any problems in getting into that ‘writing zone’ as soon as the group leader says ‘go’.
When ‘time up’ is called, (just like school), we take our turn to read our efforts out aloud and everyone is free to offer their critiques
Most, if not all of us, appear to have few inhibitions in producing this ‘writing to demand’. It is has been quite an eye-opener to hear the high quality of the writing that is produced within the time allotted.
Some of the writing is sad, some is funny, some is autobiographical, some informative; and all of it, in one way or another, is entertaining. I am becoming ever more fascinated by the divergence and variation in writing styles.
I wonder if the reason that most of us succeed in getting into that ‘zone’ so swiftly is because we are in some way subconsciously feeding off each other’s mental energy? Is this possible? Is there some kind of invisible force field – telepathy – at play, which our creative minds tap into? Does the fact that we write together in the same room make us even more creative?
I know, pretty fanciful….
Last Monday, I sent an email to each member of the group asking if they would kindly read an attached short story which I had written some years ago and was planning to publish soon on Amazon-Kindle.
(Blog readers will not be familiar with this story as I have never posted it on my blog).
The critiques I received from three of the group were the first genuine, well-considered critiques I have ever received during my 15 years of creative writing.
This is not counting a dozen or so favourable reviews that have been published on Amazon about my novels, and some very kind comments I have received on my blog from time to time.
(And I am also not counting an agent in London who tore my book apart without telling me the specifics of what she found wrong with it.)
But these were reviews from my peers – people who love ‘literary works’ and love writing, and while the comments were very positive they weren’t afraid or inhibited from telling me what they felt were flaws or from making suggestions on how to improve the story.
And you know what? Their criticisms were absolutely spot on.
After all these years of writing, I am beginning to understand and appreciate what an editor’s job is really all about. When an author writes a story, he/she is so close to the subject matter that sometimes they cannot see problems with the plot or character flaws. These can only be spotted or felt by a fresh reader – someone who is reading the narrative for the first time.
Whenever I have sent my stories and books to family and friends, I either receive the odd, very positive comment, along the lines of: ‘It’s a great book,’ ‘You are such a good writer’, etc.; or more often than not, I get no feedback at all.
I take the silence to indicate that that they didn’t really enjoy the book, or didn’t even bother to read it, but are not going to tell me as they don’t wish to hurt my feelings.
That is OK, and I understand and appreciate their reluctance to say anything negative.
The sad truth is that most of the people I know are not really my target audience.
I wonder how many of them have read and enjoyed the likes of Graham Greene, Thomas Hardy, Austen, Bronte, Tolstoy, Dostoyevsky and so many other 19th& 20th century literary greats; authors that have been my staple reading diet since I was a very young man?
Zero I would guess.
What is my target audience?
You may well ask, and to be honest I’m not sure, and if they do exist, they are in such small numbers that I will probably never be able to sell any of my work in commercial quantities.
Certainly this small writing group which I have recently joined is much better bet. These people are more likely to read my literary output than most of the general public; which I suppose sort of condemns me to be an unknown, unsung author, who will not even occupy a footnote in literature.
So whither do I go as an author?
Included in the writing group’s reviews of my short story was a generous comment that my story was much better than another short story, recently published by a best-selling, contemporary author. I trust that the gentleman who made this particular comment won’t mind if I quote him:
“For me yours is a better and more engaging story for its realism and range of characters….
…Yours on the other hand shows us a professional writer with an off-the-beaten-track tale to tell. Settings are detailed and vivid, dialogue is believable, the story unfolds at a good clip. The first section using dark wintry London as the springboard for the narrator’s varied life in exotic faraway locations reminded me of Conrad’s Heart of Darkness.”
You cannot believe how good it may me feel to read that. More than one reader compared my efforts favourably to the likes of Joseph Conrad and Graham Greene.
To be compared to such esteemed writers is something that gives me much gratification but I will not let it go to my head. Even if I never make it as a successful author, I will always take comfort from the fact that at least there a few people out there who have found something worthwhile in my humble efforts.
There, I have written this week’s Mobi-Babble, some 1,700 words, even though I had no idea what I was going to write when I sat down at my computer a couple of hours ago.
Let the creative juices continue to flow…..
Last night, Saturday, I had one of those bad pain attacks in my upper abdomen. It was the first I have experienced for many, many months.
I have recently suffered from lower abdomen pains, along with intermittent diarrhoea, all of which is unpleasant but just about tolerable, but the pains in my upper abdomen are something I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy.
I have no idea what brought this on attack after being free of them for over 9 months and can only assume that I have been too careless with my diet.
I dosed myself up on strong pain tablets and after about 4 hours, the pain started to subside, but unfortunately the pain tabs also give me insomnia so I had a short, very fitful sleep which didn’t start until well past 4 a.m. this morning.
But I had to get up and finish this blog…..