Tuesday, 22 June 2010

Writing is like lifting stones - Miriam Halahmy

You must have lifted stones as a child and marvelled at the wonderful world hidden below. Beneath some innocent rock is an entire society of wriggling, living, breathing creatures, bustling about oblivious of the world above them. Annoyed by the interference from some curious child they are sent into a spin by the sudden change of light and temperature. They disappear in seconds and the entire landscape changes. But if you return the rock and leave if for a few days then a new world will appear very quickly.

I have been lifting rocks and collecting them all my life. We brought our children up in the city but made sure we took them regularly to the wild and wonderful outdoors. My husband preferred the sea and so we had several holidays hunting for fossils on the beaches at Lyme Regis. As a result our home and garden is littered with chunks of limestone, imprinted with leaves and ammonites at least 80 million years old.

It seems to me that writing and the tuning in to the writer's creative flow is like lifting stones. Where do I find my ideas? Well, it's like lifting a stone, anything can trigger me, a pair of shoes, a word, a look, a box. The moment comes and I take time to stare into the world revealed, letting my imagination wander over the wriggling, bustling, breathing life beneath my gaze and ideas begin to form in my mind. What if....? Who is....? Why doesn't it....? That's a good .....
There is no doubt that I am much more receptive at some times than others and that is the mystery of inspiration. Picasso says, "Inspiration is there but it has to find you working."  As writers we reach a point of engagement with our craft when we are practically always working and so we are always receptive to new ideas. I find that my creative flow is pretty constant and I am jotting down ideas for stories, poems, articles, blogs, most days, as well as keeping a regular journal and of course a flow of notes in relation to  my current novel.

But there are times when my creative flow peaks. Coffee is my best stimulant, well the only one I'm prepared to risk. But when I drink coffee I have a tremendous surge of inspiration as if I have just lifted a large rock. I  love the environment of coffee bars and have been writing in them since my student days. Travelling is another time when I am often in full creative flow, lifting rocks over new terrain.

Seamus Heaney, one of our greatest living poets and an inspiration to me since my teens, speaks about the mystery of where poems come from and has no answer. All he can tell us is that they do keep coming. Larking stopped writing poems for the last twenty years of his life so Heaney considers himself very lucky. But he says that if he is driving his wife always knows when a poem comes to him because he starts to drum his fingers on the steering wheel.

The better half stays I stare fixedly into the distance, which can be a bit embarrassing if someone sees me and thinks I am staring at them. I have been staring all my life, lifting rocks, letting my creative flow find its own path across the sand towards the sea, weaving, wriggling, bustling, telling me stories and demanding answers to all the questions thrown up. My job is to catch them before the world disappears and I have to wait for a new one to gather under the rock.

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12 comments:

Sue Purkiss said...

Very interesting, Miriam. I find coffee bars conducive to writing too. They're unfortunately also conducive to eating muffins. Still - sigh - anything for the sake of the Muse!

KMLockwood said...

I enjoyed this , Miriam. I'm more of a rock pool nut myself - but I get your drift!
Certainly I do the gazing out to sea thing.

Miriam Halahmy said...

Rock pools are an entire world in themselves. Nothing wrong with muffins, Sue, just adds to the caffeine rush, well if they're choc ones!

Stroppy Author said...

That's a lovely analogy, Miriam. Though when I lift stones here, the chickens eat everything underneath them...

The demise of Borders and so loss of the coffee shop I have worked in for years and years has been a difficult thing to adjust to - with or without muffins!

Savita Kalhan said...

Lovely, Miriam, and so lyrical. When's your 'top 5 North London coffee shops to work in list' due out? I'm liking the writing you're doing in them!

Lynda Waterhouse said...

Your post reminded me of William Blake's line ,'To see the world in a grain of sand.' Am impressed by your productivity as I am longing to hold an 'eternity in an hour' and grab some writing time.

Penny Dolan said...

Interesting & beautiful post, Miriam. Think I'll put that Picasso quote somewhere promiment on my desk.

Often plan to write in coffee shops but live so close to the centre of town that the old puritanical voice tends to kick in. As for collections of stones - visiting kids love making pictures out of the heaps and bowls of stones around the place. Imagination lives!

Sue Purkiss said...

Anne, I'm still missing Borders too - the Bristol one for me. There are some nice small bookshops around, but Borders was like a big comfortable library; you could go and browse through children's books, then spend hours researching a wonderful range of non-fiction. I did buy stuff too!

Rosalind Adam said...

Some people refer to their writing ideas as their muse. I prefer yours. Lifting rocks is a lovely analogy. I do worry about your caffeine addiction though!

Becky said...

I love this post. Okay - so I don't think I was a lifting the stones type of child but maybe I was. It was a long time ago but I get the analogy. I also love the quote from Picasso. I agree that most little nuggets of inspiration come when I'm actually writing. Like work breeds ideas so something. Writing is like germs... no not such a good analogy.

Anyway, I think this is very inspiring and reminds me to keep writing even if it absolutely stinks!

Linda Strachan said...

Lovely post. I've always loved searching in rock pools by the sea, the smell of the salt spray, the rush of the waves and moments of discovery - wonderful.

Katherine Langrish said...

Lovely post, Miriam!