from BARDO

The stars are in our belly; the Milky Way our umbilicus.

Is it a consolation that the stuff of which we’re made

is star-stuff too?

– That wherever you go you can never fully disappear –

dispersal only: carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, oxygen.

Tree, rain, coal, glow-worm, horse, gnat, rock.

Roselle Angwin

Tuesday, 6 December 2011

getting out of your own light

This is another of my MsLexia columns about the writing process...

I guess we all know the blank page syndrome. It seems to me that one of the biggest problems for a writer is feeling that every word has to count; that sullying the blank page with less-than-perfect expression means you’ve ‘failed’.
This is not helpful. I open every new workshop with a reminder that you ‘can’t get it wrong’; and also I like to quote that ‘you’re not a failure because – this time – you didn’t “succeed”; you’re a success because you tried’ line. Zen writer Gail Sher* has Four Noble Truths for writers: Writers write; writing is a process; you don’t know what your writing will be until the end of the process; if writing is your practice, the only way to fail is to not write. As she and Natalie Goldberg both emphasise, what counts is the intention: you commit to showing up, and you show up. (That’s not to undermine the need sometimes for serious content; it’s simply to not have the guillotine of the production of perfect work endlessly poised above your head.)
What’s more helpful is the idea of letting oneself play; improvisation (which we do every time we open our mouths), letting words tumble out onto the page unsupervised and uncensored. In other words, allowing yourself to write rubbish in the faith that something less-than-rubbish will also emerge. It helps to approach the blank page each time as if it’s the first time, with no expectations other than the enjoyment of placing words on paper. The ideal state is one of relaxed alertness, a receptive surrender that will allow the unconscious to do the work.
Play is an important part of the creative process. As we age, unless we make time for it or work in creative fields, it is easy to forget to think associatively, instead channelling our thoughts along more linear highways. Play allows us to bring disparate elements together, to make surprising discoveries, to make exciting juxtapositions. It’s another way of making room for the imaginative and associative aspects of the subconscious to feed in to the process; remember C G Jung’s sandplay box in which both children and adults allowed to emerge what they couldn’t easily otherwise articulate.
Two suggestions this time: 1, show up daily – make time to sit with the blank page with no agenda. 2, practise associative thinking throughout the day: get into the habit of jotting down similes and metaphors as they occur to you. What are the things and situations you perceive like? What might they be? I asked a sculptor friend of mine what bunches of ash keys might be, creatively speaking. ‘Tadpoles feeding; clusters of notes from Beethoven’s unfinished symphony; all the punctuation left out of a James Joyce novel’ were some of our joint suggestions.
            Be concrete, be abstract: as one primary school boy said, the exploding dead heads of cow parsley were fireworks; and they were also like anger.
Simply get out of your own light and listen to the pen. Just write, and see what happens.

* Gail Sher: One Continuous Mistake: Four Noble Truths for Writers


  1. Hi Ro, tonight will be night three of my free flow as per chapter one! It's amazing what comes out! My core answer to your question of 'Why do you write' is, at the moment, to express things I didn't even know I felt... lots comes tumbling out! Chapter two next... Finding the detail and the specifics!

  2. Sarah, that is the best possible feedback I could get on that book (Writing the Bright Moment) - that you are both doing the suggested exercises and, it seems, getting something out of them! Thank you. Rx


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