Sunday, 14 March 2010
Please Miss, what shall I write? - Anne Rooney
I remember other kids asking that question when we were set free composition exercises at school. I never had to ask - I always had something to write about. But now the tables are, if not turned, at least tilted and I am asking it - most immediately about this blog post, then about Ian McEwan's Solar (reviewed to death before it's even been published) and, like a 10-year-old, about my next story. Creativity is at a low ebb. It has been winter for too long, too many terrible things have happened, and all my creative energy has gone into putting pieces back together. But I can't go for too long without writing something imaginative, and now I'm restless.
Writers are used to the perennial question asked by non-writers, 'where do you get your ideas from?' Many of us find the question deeply irritating, or intrusive, or just stupid. Ideas are in the ether, all around. It's a bit like quinine - some people can taste the quinine in tonic water and it makes the stuff unbearably bitter. Others can't taste it at all. Some of us are bombarded with the ideas that are lurking everywhere; others seem to walk oblivious through the blizzard without seeing any of them. I can't taste quinine, but find the world crawling with ideas. They seep out of every surface and pool on the floor. Usually, there are far more than can be dealt with. But not now. There is a bit of an idea-drought around here. This is not the same as writer's block - brillliantly discussed here by Lucy Coats and debated by several other SASsies and the WB-denier Susan Hill. If I had something to write about, I could write, at least badly - and bad writing can be improved later. But I can't quite settle on an idea I care enough about. Writing is often an effort, but there must be excitement to fire the effort. It's like an engine that can't start without a spark.
I do have a bit of an idea now, but it hasn't come about in the usual way. Usually, I'll be walking or talking or reading and a phrase or an image will spark something. From this tiny germ - often words, sometimes a picture - a story will start to unfurl. I won't necessarily know where it's going when I start writing, but it will hold enough promise for me to have faith in it. This time it's different. This idea is cobbled together from tracks, footprints left in the mud. Shadows of events, words, images rather than the real thing, a hint of a pattern emerging from the mess.
When I was a small child, I used to play with mercury. I know, that's dangerous. I remember chasing tiny blobs of mercury around on the carpet (mercury is good on a carpet - it doesn't stick to the fibres, but rolls over them). I would break my mercury pool into lots of tiny globules and then coax them around, herding them like sheep, until finally I'd group them all back together into a single pool, my mercury flock reunited. It's like that, this time. The story is bits and pieces. They need herding together, but my muse won't play the demeaning role of sheepdog. I can push the mercury blobs around, but they don't stick together. Maybe a story can't be made this way. Maybe the bits will never stick. It's not my way of writing - which is no reason to reject it, but it means I don't know how to do it. I don't want to have to learn how to write all over again, like the victim of an emotional stroke marshalling different parts of the brain to do once-familiar tasks. Do any of you write this way? How do I do it? Do I have to start writing a plan? Help!