Monday, 5 April 2010

Writing Going Feral: Penny Dolan

I know there are people who have learned all they need to know about writing from reading “real books”. However, I am a sucker for all sorts of books about writing. This may be because, for me, such books are a little like hearing someone talk about writing, which is often stimulating, interesting, informative and not always totally to be believed.

So I have been idling through a library copy of "The Sound of Paper", one of Julia Cameron’s books. This is not Julia Cameron the pioneer photographer, but Julia Cameron, ex-wife of Scorsese and author of several titles about nurturing one’s own artistic creativity, most notably “The Artist’s Way.”

I have to admit these books are not perfect. Julia’s writing style is American- Effusive with frequent showers of the Spiritual. Something about her artistic lifestyle grates more than a little when personal finances are tight, and the context is not how most people life. The span of the "Paper" book begins in a New York apartment overlooking the Hudson River and follows her to her second home in Taos, a highly artistic community in New Mexico. Not Leeds then.

I must admit that Julia’s occasional Artist's Way exhortations about searching for cheap but beautiful notebooks and pens does remind me of the sparkly, girly writing sets that fill what was once bookshelf space in shops, while her suggestions for listing five wishes for one’s future or ten things to admire about ones own achievements feels very un-English and possibly un-British.

All the same, dear Julia means well and her main mantras are good. Quick version: One. Begin each day by writing three “Morning Pages” to let out your worries and negativity so you are left free to work. Two. Taking yourself off alone for a regular “Artist Date”, which means doing something that will refresh and stimulate your own artistic ideas. Three. Walking for some time each day, as a way of freeing your thoughts for any creative project. These work. These help. Go and read about them for yourself.

Besides, I always get something useful from Julia’s books. From "The Sound of Paper" comes the following big warning about Writing Going Feral.

She suggests that if you don’t look after your current writing project by giving it time each day, by treating it well by using your best hours on it, by looking after the work and attending to it regularly, then your creative idea will wander away and be hard to find when you return to the page. Your work will have Gone Feral.

Procrastinators, take note. Don’t say you haven’t been warned. Me, I'm reaching for the kitty-bowl right now.


Sue Purkiss said...

That's funny - I've just been out in the hut digging out books about writing - specifically Ursula le Guin's 'Steering the Craft' - and have thoroughly enjoyed doing some of the exercises. AND I found that she told the 'Eats, shoots and leaves' panda story long before Lynne Truss made it famous.

Glad you straightened me out about Julia Cameron - always thought she was the photographer! Duh!

Penny Dolan said...

Sue, I had never heard of Ursula Le Guin's "Steering the Craft" book before, so maybe that should go on my library list. Thanks!

The days just after Easter always feel to me like a time for getting up and getting going, so good luck to us both.

(I will try very hard to forget those oddments of Bologna news suggesting that every A-list author is launching a book with themes similar to my own struggling tome.)

Sue Purkiss said...

Definitely. I've cleared my noticeboard and everything. And all I know about A Boy Called Mouse is the cover, but I have the feeling it's going to be big - and I was born with six fingers on each hand, so I clearly know stuff!

Rosalind Adam said...

Julia Cameron's advice sounds very much like Natalie Goldberg's in 'Writing Down the Bones'. This too is very American both in language and lifestyle but I enjoy her tips and often dip into her book for a bit of a telling off like when she tells me to 'Push yourself... sometimes when you think you are done [with your writing] it is just the edge of the beginning.'

I love the idea of the 'Artist Date'. I might organise one of those for myself.

Penny Dolan said...

Hello Rosalind,
In fact, in the book, Julia Cameron refers to Natalie Goldberg as her very good friend and neighbour down there in Taos, so not maybe not so surprising they feel similar.

The "push to do better" emphasis is good, but I find the sense of semi-autobiographical writing they seem to advocate - the using of ones own experiences directly as a basis for ones writing - not how my writing works at all. I find fragments of life surfacing when I'm busy with my fiction, not the other way round. Wonder if that is odd or not?

Sue, glad to hear your six fingered words of encouragement about Mouse, though not sure myself.

Elaine AM Smith said...

My sparkly notebook of lists are full of negativity, did I get the message wrong?

Penny Dolan said...

Hmmm - don't think so Elaine. How my morning pages - which are not in a sparkly notebook but a dull black one - work for me is that I write down all sorts of thoughts as they spring to mind - worried about work/loack of work, how I haven't slept, how I have to do x today and can't work out howm and so on and so on. That done, I can shut the pages on all that fretful scum of worries, and put my mind to work true & proper. They are also useful in how many times can you write "must tidy desk" (or similar moaning) before you actually do. Its a way of sheeding that negativity.

Penny Dolan said...

Or even shedding your spelling abilities, it seems. Apologies!

Was writing in haste as IT Expert here needed to talk about cars & garages & dates, after my recent gentle scrunch interlude with a school gatepost.