March 13, 2011

The Art of Writing

As a student of writing, I was taught that the writing process can be different for everyone. 

Some people write best at night and others feel the creative flow first thing in the morning, when the world is still fast asleep. 

Some write daily - as a regular practice in stream of consciousness writing - designed to keep the creative wheels oiled and turning. And others can go weeks, months, without so much as picking up a pen. 

My own process of writing has always felt somewhat elusive. Perhaps the only way I can describe it is to say that I write when I need to get back to myself -  when my own thoughts have become congested and I need to clear my mind. 

I have never been overly interested in writing fiction. Even as a teenager I felt compelled to write about what was happening around me and I have always been drawn to the darker aspects of human nature in my writing.  

When I write, I find that all of my ideas, concepts, thoughts and feelings get pushed up to the surface, from a place I cannot access in any other way or at any other time, other than when I write.  

And when I have not written for a while, I am often struck by a deep sense of awe and wonderment at the strange and orderly chaos of my writing - as if the words have exploded from a secret place within myself to which I am not consciously connected. 

Many writers will argue that their own writing does not evolve from the conscious self  but rather, from another source such as the subconscious or the collective unconscious, or what some might call the soul. 

But even if that is true - even if the art of writing is in fact an unconscious process - then surely we alter the alchemy of that process by the way in which we censor ourselves for ourselves and for the reader? 

Surely the moment anything is altered - a phrase, a sentence, an idea - then the very process of writing becomes in and of itself contrived?

I began writing poetry at the tender age of 10 and much like my youngest daughter, the child version of me could wield the pen across the page without any concept of self-censorship.  

Children are free - well at least until the world traps and tames them - and to observe the creative process in children is to observe a direct dialogue between the subconscious and the object, in this case the subconscious and the page. 

We can also observe this kind of inhibition in the remarkable paintings of younger children, where every brush stroke is uninhibited and free from self-judgement or self-censorship. 

Therapists use painting and drawing as a medium for self expression when working with children because they will often reveal their deepest, darkest truths upon the page. 

As I grew older, I became angry with my own attempts at writing poetry and I soon found myself drowning under the weight of my own criticism.
Suddenly, the process of trying to make words fit and bend felt too rigid and overwrought to be applied to anything as natural as poetry and in the end, I couldn't help feeling like I was trying to be some version of myself, like each sentence was obvious and contrived.  

Somehow grief brought out my very best writing. 

I wrote everyday for three months as if  I had no other choice in the matter. 
Some people write because it is something they enjoy doing - like tennis or crossword puzzles or cooking. I write because I have to write, because writing is how I make sense of who I am and it has always been a sort of psychological release, like therapy. 

During my own grief, the act of writing became more than therapeutic - it became freedom. It was a small space between the contractions of loss, like a single moment, or a deep breath, where I could actually transcend everything that separated me from what I had lost.   

Even though I was writing about my own experience of grief, I felt absent from the mechanics of writing and I was surprised by the way I could form these perfectly honest sentences when I was missing from the world.  

Paul Kelly once talked about his songwriting technique and how the lyrics to all of his most successful songs had come to him in a dream. I like to think of the creative process like that - as though the end result is dependant on more than that which we can ever hope to explain. 

But then sometimes I get all linear and think well, if we are not steering the creative process then who exactly is in charge? 

Is it really possible that creativity is a gateway between the conscious and the unconscious, and that during this process, there is no separation between these dichotomous aspects of self? 

The truth is, we don't have to understand the creative process in order for it to work because it works in spite of our self-serving explanations. 

And the minute we try to over think something - to give it a name or to place it in a definitive box -  it loses all of its magic, and mystery. 

Perhaps all we can do is to give thanks for our ability to be guided by the creative process, whatever that process may be. Because at the end of the day, creativity is a gift and it is our responsibility to utilise that gift - that is all. 


Cosmic Navel Lint said...

"When I write, I find that all of my ideas, concepts, thoughts and feelings get pushed up to the surface, from a place I cannot access in any other way or at any other time, other than when I write."

Same here: I find that people, events, quotes and situations all make me want to submit something in writing, either to my blog, or my web forum.

Deborah said...

Interesting post, Misha. I agree with your conclusion: don't become too self-conscious, just write.

Found you on NetworkedBlogs discussion board - new follower. I too have a writing blog, and am always interested in other writers.

Misha Sim said...

Thanks Sam and Deborah.
Deborah, mine is not a writing blog per se, but as a writer I occasionally post about writing. I will check your writing blog out when I get time.