Saturday, 15 August 2009
N M Browne: It's like...
I am always intrigued by the language writers use to talk about writing. Perplexed, but intrigued. On-line, cyber space is full of talk of the writer’s tool box. All aspects of writing are tools. Not being a dab hand at DIY I routinely use a hammer to crack a nut and a similar approach to writing might be problematic.
I think people who think of aspects of writing, point of view, voice, world building, character building as tools must have a story in their head somehow, a platonic ideal of a story that they somehow reconstruct with the aid of bolt cutters, electric drills and a pair of pliers. I find the metaphor useless as I have no ideas at all when I start. None. Sweet F A. I don’t need a tool box I need a clue.
Is writing for me like doing a puzzle? A bit. Maybe. I don’t know; I don’t do puzzles. Certainly at the start it is like twenty questions. Is my heroine a princess, a slave, a dog, a duck billed platypus? I really don’t know anything at all at the beginning.
I kind of find all that POV, character and voice stuff arrives with the story – like the instruments I know I want to use from the moment I start trying to come up with a tune. I know the kind of sound I want – more or less, but I work out how to make it as I go along. Does that make sense? Probably not. I don’t understand enough about the mechanics of musical composition to strike a chord with those that do.
When obliged to talk about writing process, I often talk about weaving, which is ridiculous as I have no idea how to do that in real life. I definitely have story threads that I need to be worked into an overall pattern, different colours that need to be given prominence at different times, but as a metaphor it isn’t terribly helpful which probably explains some of the blank looks I get from students.
‘It’s like painting’ I say, a woman who hasn’t painted since about 1978 and wasn’t very good at it then. ‘The narrative kind of drives forward like a snow plough.’ What? ‘It’s like sewing – the main thread is a strong red line I embroider as I go.’ What is this girl on? I can’t do embroidery. I spent the year I was supposed to learn cross-stitch reading ‘Biggles’ under the desk and the same goes for knitting – only I think I was reading ‘Narnia.’
At secondary school I forgot my fabric every sewing lesson as reading the text book was more interesting. I can’t do craft and I can’t explain how I write – metaphors break down, melt or fizzle out in thin air like spells with no substance, lacking truth or power.
I don’t know how to describe writing a book – it’s like writing a book OK?