Friday, February 29, 2008

Freezing Up; Chilling Out

From the superb 'Cambridge Introduction to Creative Writing' by David Morley, Director of the Warwick Writing Programme at the University of Warwick:

'Writers who do not feel self-doubt occasionally are lying to themselves. It comes with the job, like perpetual dissatisfaction. You grow used to the sensation of freezing up when writing, of proceeding in fits of stops, starts, ease and block. You find times when it is not only the words that will not come; the arc of the
entire piece disappears in your mind. When self-doubt strikes, you must proceed by nerve alone, and by stealth. This is a moment that is defined in action and boldness by your character, not only as a writer but as a person. No guts; no glory. Your only response, if you wish to continue, is to get used to its distress signal. You are not being held hostage by your work; this is your work; you command the situation. Choose to write with a colder eye, as if the task did not matter up. The feelings of self-doubt will pass: it is an intense but small wave of panic, and does little harm if you do not let it. Self-doubt's fiendish opposite, Overconfidence, should also be shown the door.'

Hard to believe that this marvellous description of creative failure was written by someone who is himself a successful and talented writer, the poet David Morley. And it doesn't stop there; the book is awash with paragraphs like this, engagingly written and packed with good common sense for writers in all disciplines, from poetry and novels to 'creative' non-fiction and academic work.

Highly recommended reading for all those who wish to or absolutely need to write creatively, and particularly perhaps for those who can't stop themselves writing but for whom meaningful publication is still elusive. David Morley's expertise as a creative writing tutor shines through on every page, as does his intelligence and sympathy for the struggling writer, both new and established.

This large, glossy, beautifully-presented book is an invaluable companion for teachers of creative writing; every creative writing department should own a copy, and consult it regularly.


Sorlil said...

Sounds good, will keep it in mind for my next book-buying splurge.

Bo said...

This looks great! I'll have to acquire it.
Jane, I'm getting at lot of trolls over at EBB at the moment. As a seasoned blogger, what do you do about them?
M x

Jane Holland said...

Hi Sorlil, yes, it's a good buy and provides hours of fascinating reading. Heavy on the technical terms in parts, but then the book often feels like it's aimed at full-time students of creative writing who would be used to such terms. On the other hand, it's easy to step over any awkward terms and concentrate on the pages where it's just gloriously about writing, writing, writing ...
and what a pain it is!

Bo, the only thing you can do is what you've already done, which is enable comment moderation and just drop the suckers into the oubliette whenever they appear.

I heard a similar story from a politics-cum-poetry blogger the other day, who said he got so much hate mail that he no longer allows any comments on his blog at all, to discourage people from even attempting to troll there.

Is it tempting fate to say I almost never get difficult comments left here? The odd one or two, perhaps, but that's easily dealt with.

There's a facility for only invited 'friends' of your blog to view it, but that's a little limiting. I believe you may also be able to stipulate who can leave comments, within certain categories, but you'd have to check the specifics of that on the Blogger Help pages.

Sorry to hear of your troubles though.

Oh, and if I was dedicating a poem to you, would you prefer 'Bo' or your real name, or a combination of the two?!


Bo said...

Thanks Jane!
dedicating a poem?!! wow! go for my real name. I'm me most honoured.

Jane Holland: Editor said...

Nonsense. Least I can do after that marvellous curry the other night! And you know my affection for you ...

Ms Baroque said...

Jane that is indeed a great description, and I think it's a description of success, not failure...

But why are his italics all on words you wouldn't stress?

Jane Holland said...

Ms. Pedant, yes, all right, but it's also a description of successfully dealing with a moment of creative failure.

Tosses head impatiently.

Your other point, re the off-beat stresses, is far more interesting. Or should I say far more interesting?

I noticed that too, though reproduced the italics faithfully. If you read his poetry, you'll find the same thing happening in his verse; stresses falling off-beat throughout the line, tripping you up - or me, at least - as you try to read.

At first I found it immensely difficult to find a way into his poetry because of that, particularly perhaps in The Invisible Kings - a book I nevertheless recommend as ambitious and deliciously intricate - but it's a voice you have to adapt yourself to in order to truly appreciate. It makes no concessions. Not in the way that Ashbery or Prynne make no concessions, of course. This is more like listening to difficult music, music that wrong-foots you and then is suddenly, startlingly, lyrical.

His 'wrong' italics in the quoted prose extract seem to link into that; an extension of the off-beat rhythms and stresses he hears in his head. Fascinating!