I apologise for the week-or-so-hiatus… I’m working on a rather large school assessment (the last for the year!), and am starting a new very hectic job on Thursday. I have also been asked to run a poetry workshop at my old high school for students going into VCE as an end-of-year activity. Besides all this, there are friends to be seen, gigs to be attended (one of which an upcoming blog will cover), HBO to be watched… So, in short, hours aren’t long enough for all I’m trying to get done.
I have, however, still found time to dip into The Reader
I’ve been thinking about what writing is, and has to be. And I’ve realised that it has to be something that happens both absolutely alone and surrounded by people… Let me explain.
Tiggy Johnson’s article, “Red Haze”, talks about the aloneness of writing, and she speaks about her personal struggle to balance writing life with family life – finding the alone-time, putting down only what really needs to be put down straight away, hoping you can ‘feel it’ when you come back to notes after the kids are all in bed. Tiggy’s writing career is a mesh of quality time with family, and stolen wee hours with words.
What got me about Tiggy’s article, though, was the way she’s haunted by ideas even after they’ve happened,
“I wrote the words on a train, hours ago, but they’re still cycling…”
I know this feeling too well. Waking up at 2.45am, just two lines in my head, telling myself ‘they can wait, they can wait!’ …but they never can, and then I’m up and scribbling before they get away from me. Sleep after this is impossible, because that was only two lines, the rest is yet to come.
This waking up at 2.45am and scribbling and laying awake, this writing on trains, this interruption of life by an idea, this is a very alone place to be. And it needs to be.
Steven Amsterdam is the very talented man who wrote this year’s The Age fiction book of the year. (Go him!). He also wrote an article for the reader, titled “The Workshop”, where he looks at the togetherness that’s needed to write effectively. He talks about how you tend to get in your head about it when you write alone.
I do this. I crawl up in the cavity next to my brain and hold my words close to my chest. Being in your head about your writing is fine, and great, but only really when you’re in the process of writing.
Steven talks about how he finds workshops absolutely necessary to pull him out of his head.
“I could never achieve this alone at my laptop,” he says.
Chuck Palahniuk touches on this alone/together dichotomy in the introduction to his “Non-Fiction” short story collection.
“The lonely end of the spectrum … You plan and research. You spend time alone, building this lovely world where you control, control, control everything. You let the telephone ring. The emails pile up. You stay in your story world until you destroy it. Then you come back to be with other people.
If your story sells well enough, you get to go on book tour. Do interviews. Really be with people. A lot of people. People, until you’re sick of people. Until you crave the idea of escaping, getting away to a…
To another lovely story world.”
I guess what I’m getting at with this lengthy, ill-thought-out ramble is that sometimes as a writer it’s easy to get lost in your head, at 2.45am, naked with a notebook and bedside lamp. But in order to get anywhere, this aloneness has to have a ‘both/and’ relationship with togetherness, not an ‘either/or’ relationship. It’s an absolutely necessary cycle.