Saturday, 9 February 2013

Word f[e]ast - Anne Rooney

"All of us ... are so habituated to words that we cannot escape them. If we are left alone long enough and forbidden to read, we will very soon be talking to ourselves... starve yourself in a wordless void. Stay alone, and resist the temptation to take up any book, paper or scrap of printed matter that you can find; also flee the temptation to telephone someone when the strain begins to make itself felt - for you will almost certainly scheme internally  to be reading or talking within a few minutes... Once we have learned words, we must be forever using them."

Dorothea Brande, Becoming a Writer, 1934

Now we would have to add that you can't use the computer, or radio, or television, can't text anyone or look at your Kindle. It's true - we are addicted to words and find ever more ways to use and encounter them.

Brande's advice is directed at writers who are stuck. She goes on to list ways stuck writers can get the words flowing again, including walking, listening to music (with no words), sewing and riding. The activities strike a chord - but I had never noticed that walking works precisely because there are no other words than those in my head. Perhaps she's right - to make words come, we just need to create a word vacuum. It's why the internet is often the enemy of writing - all those clamouring voices not just drowning out the interior voice but making it unnecessary.

Think of the books written in prison: Boethius wrote The Consolation of Philosophy in prison, and Auerbach wrote Mimesis - his great history of western literary tradition - in prison, without having any of the books before him. Malory wrote the Morte Darthur, Pound wrote the Pisan Cantos, the Marquis de Sade wrote Justine, Cervantes wrote Don Quixote, Wilde wrote De Profundis and Bunyan wrote Pilgrim's Progress - all in prison. Martin Luther translated the New Testament into German and Walter Raleigh wrote a History of the World. (Oh, and Hitler wrote Mein Kampf.)

Starve yourself in a wordless void, and write a masterpiece. Let's see if it works. (But not today.)

Anne Rooney
(Stroppy Author)


Sue Purkiss said...

Sounds a bit drastic!

Savita Kalhan said...

Interesting post, Anne. I actually wrote the most I've ever written, in terms of word count, while I was living in the Middle East in a country that had virtually no books. There was barely any internet then, no Kindle, and no other distractions. It felt like a prison! It worked...but I can't do that to myself now - it's too harsh. Maybe just an empty room will do...

Penny Dolan said...

Seem to recall the artist's way book suggested a time with no reading too. Interesting list of imprisoned writer names. But no reading feels almost impossible an existence while written words are about.

Andrew Strong said...

I find this perceptive blog all too apt. Thank you, Stroppy.

Andrew Strong said...

I find this perceptive blog all too apt. Thank you, Stroppy.