Wednesday, March 7, 2012


By halfway through any writing course I would have pretty much sorted out who had a chance of getting ahead and who hadn’t. Those who brought completed assignments to class, no matter what, might make it. For the rest, what with funerals, unexpected visitors, and dogs that had acquired a taste for chewing up homework, the excuses multiplied. The problem with writing is too often a fear of starting.

I always tried to reassure the hopeful that most writers probably never outgrow the empty mind stage. The panic-stricken stage. The OMG what happens next stage. They just have to crawl doggedly across the barren landscape towards a distant horizon. I once ended a chapter in mid-stream, after a day spent wondering what I was going to do with the lumpish characters I had created, with "then they all ran down to the water's edge, upon which a tsunami reared its menacing head over the horizon and engulfed every single one – THE END." A horrible sentence like that was a sign of desperation, but it got rid of all the characters in one go. [N.B. Next day they miraculously survived and stumbled on.]

Novels, articles and poems do not spring full-blown from our heads so that we can write them down, like dictation. Writing doesn’t just happen, we have to start with something. Preferably an idea. Faced with a blank computer screen and a blinking cursor, the mind – empty – is in lock-down.

So, sometimes I doodle – mess about, wasting time, but purposefully. I start with a word that's relevant to the task at hand and write it in the middle of a piece of paper. I don't think, just react, and write down any word triggered by the first: RED – ANGER – ROSE – BLOOD – BULL FIGHT – BLUSHING – LIPSTICK. I might begin with a word that reflects a mood, feeling, memory, fear, ambition, drive, a problem. For non-fiction (my primary field) I might begin with a heading, purpose, a theme, an argument, points, facts.

I don't censor or select, I discard nothing, throw everything into the mix. It's wonderfully messy, like playing in sand. Each word suggests another, going off on tangents, in all directions, until I get a grip on where I want to go. One thing leads to another. It is simply a matter of choosing which of all those words, ideas and their satellites to pursue. Spoilt for choice, and no excuses necessary. The dog can sleep in peace.

Paiting: Waterfront, 2010

1 comment:

  1. 'They just have to crawl doggedly across the barren landscape towards a distant horizon.' Perfect job description.