You’ve been inside the mystery long enough not to care anymore that you can’t encompass it. In fact you’ve been inside long enough to prefer a position a little way outside, just left of the door. The view is more interesting. Parallax error runs in the background of everything you see, like a little bit of code totting up Air Miles and Nectar Points and so on. The main thing is that you don’t have to try, although it takes a few decades of trying before you discover that. You have to put in those decades, then one day you just upend an old wooden box on the pavement and start selling your CDs from it. People see you there night and day and they wonder about your life, something that stopped puzzling you years ago. You’re happy at last, give them a few years and they will be too.
Tag Archives: writing
Aliens arrive on Earth after a long journey, only to find that humanity has died out. They’ve never used writing or paper, so they don’t get books; they’ve never stored data digitally, so they don’t get computers. They recycle the books for fuel & the internet servers for chemicals. But their own typical data storage system looks & acts very much like a jackdaw, so they value the jackdaws & put them in beautiful jackdaw-friendly environments & spend the next 500 years reverently trying to decode the messages of hope they’re sure humanity left encoded in jackdaw behaviour. Jackdaws can’t believe their luck.
As I understand it, B says, the cliche “writer’s block” actually describes the inability to write anything at all. If you have a problem with a plot, she says, you’re not blocked, you are in fact writing; because the maddeningly slow solution of difficult problems in the context of specific pieces of work is part of the process of writing. In B’s opinion, you aren’t blocked in the cliche sense unless you’ve written nothing for several years and can be played by Mickey Rourke. Further, she believes, block is a consequence of being expected to write, or to write again. If you’ve got nothing to say, why bother? Essentially that’s a socio-economic pressure, an argument about who owns and defines writing time. Although it is experienced interiorly, by the writer, that kind of block is actually imposed from outside, by the expectations of the industry. My advice to myself, B says, pouring herself another glass of Merlot, is always: Don’t let your work be problematised from the outside. The real experience of block–being held up by something you don’t yet understand in the work or your assumptions about it or your assumptions about yourself–is perfectly natural; solve it by your own methods in your own time. Block as a necessary stage in writing is simply not block. She empties her glass quickly and holds it up to the light. I never liked Mickey Rourke anyway, she says darkly. Or that whole Hollywood fantasy of the cultural impotent.
You have to reinvent for the book. Your life doesn’t appear to have changed, but the book is telling you it has. The book is a way of acknowledging more than one thing you already knew. Now you come to think of it, life’s been weird since you finished the last one. You couldn’t settle. You felt belittled, especially in your nightmares. That’s always a conversation with the writer down inside. He knows more about everything than you. He catches on faster. He’s come to some understanding, he’s made some decision. Look around, there’s plenty you don’t intend to lose. But bridges are going to be burned. It won’t be one of those scary 100% conflagrations of the past, but something’s got to go. Indeed, something’s already gone. Now you’re going to find out what. That’s what a book is for, sunshine, finding out who you are now.
Stop reading. Stop being anxious about your relations with books. Assume your skills are adequate. Assume you don’t know who you are. Go away to another town. When you get there, don’t “write”: instead begin recording what you see. Describe a life you can only be on the edge of. Get those people down. Get down what they do, what they say, how they say it. Aim for observational accuracy but understand that you can only ever proceed from emotional & moral judgements you have already made. Never try to resolve that opposition. Never think beyond the problem of getting things down. Keep everything. After two years go back to where you came from, if you any longer believe that to be possible, or if you believe yourself any longer to be the you that went away. You can start trying to “write” again now.
That afternoon the whole of Lambeth–street after street spread out in the sun–smelled of roasting coffee. I sat on a bench outside St Mary’s, surrounded by the continual groan and thud of traffic at the Lambeth Bridge junction, listening to a thrush as it shaped and defended its territory among the ornamental shrubs. Daisies and dandelions were already out in the grass. At the edge of the path grew lesser celandines, yellow, star-shaped flowers like flat buttercups with eight pointed petals. I had cycled across from Peckham to see the garden at St Mary’s, but it was shut. The light falling across the south flank of the church was almost enough to make up for that; the faint shadows of the plane trees were like the shadows traced on a limestone cliff on a warm winter day. Water the colour of milk chocolate roiling under Lambeth Bridge in the strong sunlight. Tourists blink and laugh. A women on her own stares down over the parapet. They photograph the barges: THAMES & GENERAL LIGHTERAGE COMPANY.
Sybille Bedford, JIGSAW: “To say that Jules, the Julius von Felden of the novel [A Legacy], was my father would be as misleading as to say that he was not. Jules is like my father and unlike; to what degree of either I do not know. My intention was to draw a character in fiction; I used facts and memories when they served and discarded them when they did not.” [p18, my insert in squares.] This is a very adequate description of what went on in Climbers. Bedford clearly feels no guilt. Neither does she feel that definitions–of fiction or autobiography–have been strained. In this she resembles Colette or Pritchett rather than Isherwood, who felt he had to apologise for “lying”; or Edward Upward, who as a young man allowed his identity to become fatally intricated with his own imaginative product, and who to counter this spent the rest of his life transcribing his life like a book-keeper. What is the difference between these two kinds of writer?
Sometimes a writing problem will begin to resolve itself when you recognise that you haven’t been acknowledging pivotal events in your life. You’ve changed without knowing it. You were looking in the wrong place for solutions because you were looking in the wrong place for yourself. This recognition, however, doesn’t provide automatic or short-term relief. It’s unlikely to be a professional solution. The problem of writing is always the problem of who you were, always the problem of who to be next. It is a game of catch-up, of understanding that what you’re failing to write could only be written by who you used to be. Who you are now should be writing something else: what, you won’t know until you try.
Brutalise all plans & conceptions. Lose patience with last 10 years of ideas, now seen as prison. Bolt wrong components to wrong components! Sustained acts of Frankenstein & self-piracy! Address current emotional issues not 5 year old ones! New observations/notes; new philosophical/political insight; new structural problems/solutions. New imagery. Sense of adventure. Sense of risk in the material. Explore & affront your hopes for yourself. Glee at breaking own definitions & taboos. Carnage in the files. Parameters missing at the outset may be the things that writing will show you. In the end you have to get frightened enough to push down the pillars of your own establishment.
Adam Roberts rounds up the year’s science fiction. Jonathan McCalmont continues his assault on “the hotbed of empty phrases” that is traditional sf criticism. While Tim Maughan explains himself to Sense of Wonder. I like Maughan’s first answer– “the western middle classes … feel like the future – which they were always told would belong to them – is slipping out of their grasp” –because I’m interested in writing the deflation & melancholy of the people he describes. More interested, in a way, than pursuing the “future” that has left them behind. Science fiction has always defined a future as a global trend successfully isolated & described: the futurologist’s future, the cultural analyst’s future. All that interests the sf writer is the wavefront, the shock of the new. Cold, man. Because the future is also the umwelt of those who are left behind & muddle on–accepting this, rejecting that, failing to acknowledge or even detect macroeconomic shifts. In fact that’s really the only actual future, the non-discourse future, the non-speculative, non-theoretical future, the future on the ground. It’s all around, now. One of the many ways science fiction might delimit itself is to write in that direction, rather than always going for the shiny stuff, the Googie of the day. Bruce Sterling meets Anita Brookner & they totally fail to understand one another at the Hotel du Lac.