On the Need to Invent and Reinvent

I've spent a lot of time recently thinking about the process of writing, in a personal sense, of course. I can't make judgements for other people, only myself. And - you know - I increasingly feel that the online world tries to do just that. It's relentlessly judgemental - full of people, often spectacularly unsuccessful themselves - who are all too anxious to make sets of rules for other people to follow. I've been tempted down that route myself from time to time although frankly I've always been a bit of an anarchist.
I spend one day a week helping students with their academic writing but that is completely (and blissfully) different from dictating how people ought to write creatively. With so many years of experience in so many different areas of writing, I can look at a piece of academic work in a discipline I know nothing about and still make helpful suggestions. Often it's because I know very little about the subject under discussion that I can see the wood for the trees, and suggest what seem to me to be minor structural changes which - so people tell me - are often immensely helpful.
But creative writing? Well, I find myself increasingly reluctant to say anything about anybody else's work. I have a handful of writer friends - less than a handful, to be strictly accurate - for whom I do the odd bit of reading - as they do for me. I trust them, I hope they trust me. But I'm never really criticising what they do in the sense of judging it. I may interrogate the work itself and them from time to time, to give them a sense of how what they've written comes across to a friendly reader. I may reinforce their own doubts about certain aspects of the work with the occasional gentle query. (We always have doubts. I was going to say, even seasoned professionals. But I think they -we? - have more doubts than most. We all know enough to know what we don't know!) I will be scrupulously honest and as observant as I can be. And I often find myself praising what is genuinely wonderful in the hope that my feedback will help balance those doubts which do beset all writers from time to time. I like to think that I can be of some help - but I'm too busy wrestling with my own creative angels to be judgemental about anybody else's!
So over the past year, I have spent rather a lot of time thinking about what I write myself, and why. How I feel about it. How I want to feel about it. And why - over the past year - I seem to have ground inexorably to a halt in some aspects of my writing, while in others I am so full of ideas and experiments and insights that I hardly know where to begin. As writers we are naturally inventive. 'Where do you get your ideas from?' is an incomprehensible question to most writers. We are usually full of ideas and we neither know nor care where they come from. That's never the problem. The problem is all too often the translation of those thrilling ideas into words on the page. Because sometimes, you look at them and they seem so pedestrian. What soared in the mind limps along on the page.
Which leads me to the idea of reinvention. But it's late. And I'll save that for another post.


eLizH said…
You wrote: "As writers we are naturally inventive".
And "We are usually full of ideas and we neither know nor care where they come from."

I have to write for my PhD, and it's taking me ages to get into the habit of writing. But I started writing a couple of blogs years ago. Initially I wrote once a month. But now, I find heaps of things to write about and don't have the time to write them all. So I understand why you've just said (10th August 09) you're going to have a break. You must have mountains of ideas.