Wordsmithing

It’s just on 10 o’clock as I write this, I’ve showered and dressed, walked down the corner milk bar and back, had breakfast, my morning coffee and read the newspaper from front page to last. All very pleasant, but now it’s time for work.

Writing the last few days has become a bit of a grind. That’s not unusual and I knew it must happen, but I am surprised at how difficult it has become after the ease of last week. This week there is absolutely no inspiration, I work at this piece or another knowing basically what I should be doing but feeling as if I am churning out drudge. The trick is to work through it – eventually you will hit a seam, even if it is a little one, and the trick then is to work it for all its worth.

Good writing demands from the writer a disparate set of skills – good observation, empathy, and concentration. They are not necessarily skills that are consciously worked on – I think you become a writer because you have those skills. For ever since I can remember I have looked at people and with an innate curiosity, wondering about their lives, what they feel and think, what they hope for. With no ulterior motive I have often tried to look at the world from their perspective and imagined what it was like. I think I was born with keen eye for nuance – I’m sure I read people pretty accurately with the barest of clues. Likewise I have always had the ability to notice details that other people miss – this I only understood by comparison, surprised often to find that I am the only person to have properly seen. It is concentration that brings these things together. You see other lives and to some degree feel them; you see the world those lives exist in and in colourful detail. It is the mind that brings those elements together and in focus – from those disparate elements a story comes.

These are qualities that lend themselves to writing, but they do not a writer make necessarily. I have always found it difficult to consider myself a writer, and strange when so many have claimed it for me. Writing has always been something I do; it may be at the centre of what I am, but I am a lot more besides. There have been times, more times than not, when I have thought my mission, for want of a better word, is to live widely, to open myself to experience and feeling, to throw myself into different situations and soak them up. To write for its own sake seems an empty experience; to live and to write from that experience much more worthy. That is how I have seen myself, a traveller who happens now and then to explain those travels on the page. It is the living that is important.

A friend once called me a wordsmith, and it was description I quite liked – I even thought about putting it in my passport under occupation. It is an earthier term, more rounded and substantial. That’s how I feel in a way, like an artisan with words, not an artist. Words come relatively easy to me as do, mostly, the concepts and stories I use the words with. Words are tools, simply a means of communication. They are what I use but I am not bound to them.

It’s one of the reasons I sometimes have problems considering myself a writer. It may be that I have a romantic and cliched notion of what a writer is, but I have never seen myself in those terms. Truth be told, I find a lot of writers annoying as people, and I have avoided writer’s festivals like the plague. You won’t ever see me pontificating in public (in private is fine!), though I am often curious about the creative process, I don’t want to hear a bunch of mediocre talents speak as if it is high art they have created. It seems so painfully precious. Let the story speak for itself – more words only muddy what is pure. It is the living that is important, I say again – I am not that story, that novel, I am me and these are merely products of me.

I am uncomfortable also with the monkish devotion to writing – and this follows logically on what what I have previously written. From a purely practical point of view I think it is silly – one must be out in the world to write about it. You must feel the rough and tumble to understand how the rough and tumble works – and why.

I read a few years back a feature article on this very issue. Featured were two Australian poets with totally opposite opinions on the question. One swore that he must shut himself away to create his art – he had to live with it day and night, intensively feel what he was trying to express before diluting it into a poem. It sounded very arduous. The other poet was of different nature – not surprisingly. He contended that he needed to be out in society to write, had to hear the voices and see the sights, had, in fact, to be engaged in that society himself. And from that he wrote.

The first was a professional poet; the second worked and wrote on the side. I was drawn to the seconds point of view, almost by instinct. It seemed more sensible, more logical – though I guess it depends on what you write about, and the nature of the writer. Certainly I am in his camp.

I can see myself in time making an effort to get away from this regulated approach to writing. As I wrote last week, it is important to be disciplined and to form creative habits, but there must be a balance to it. Perhaps I’ll do a barista course sometime and turn out espresso’s a couple of days a week, just to be amongst it. It makes sense. In any case, right now I seem to have only 3-4 creative days a week – I use up up all the words after that, the well is dry.

It is strange how the creative mind works. A friend the other day read some of my pieces here about the Commonwealth Games and suggested I should turn out a feature article along the same lines, highlighting my interpretation of events. Sure, I said, good idea. Funny thing is that I can’t right now. I churn out these entries without effort. They are just there, waiting. Suddenly, trying to write to a higher purpose constrains that very process. It’s like the things you do instinctively that become difficult when someone is watching, or you have to think about it.

I have to get past that. I will, I’m sure.

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