The far side of panic

December 2018

This blog is really for all those of you who have those moments of despair: where is my work going.. what am I doing… can’t think, can’t write… why am I doing this……

Earlier this year I was sitting in on a workshop run by Andrew Miller and Karin Altenberg. Andrew opened it by talking about the ‘process’ of writing. I found myself prickling.. what an odd, unsympathetic word to describe the creative work of writing. And then he explained, and I tell you, the sense of relief that writers as brilliant as he, experienced the same struggles as those of us on the margins, was a wonderful encouragement. A liberation! In note form, this is what he said.

The ‘process’ of writing

At the beginning of your work you can think of nothing that gives it order.

Any ambitious piece of work involves a powerful sense of being lost, not knowing how to continue, or how to explain it. Being blocked is part o the process, being lost, not knowing – it’s all within the process. These are not indicators that you have lost your way.

There is always a far side to not knowing. Panicking is part of the process!

Writing can be a messy process, partly because we can’t see what’s going on, that’s because a lot of what goes on is outside of our ability to consciously know it. “When we write” says Andrew Miller, “we enter mystery”.

Indulge in “diligent indolence” – we need time when we are not overly engaged. Sometimes our writing seems to be working, but it’s often the rest, mulling away just below the surface, that is the most important. So take time off to read, to wander.  That’s all part of it.

It takes time.  Most work is done slowly, much like a gardener. You don’t plant a seed and expect it to be a full grown plant the next day. It takes 2 to 3 yrs minimum to write a book. It can be hard to justify that much time. Keep your nerve. Things get written through life, not round the side of it.

The difficulty is having faith in the process. When you loose faith in it you feel you’re floundering. The key is to keep faith with it. You will eventually see how it will carry you through.  And be faithful.  Sit at your desk each day.

Later I asked Andrew if he had days when he sat down and realised he had nothing whatsoever to say.
“Often.”
“So what do you do?”
“After 10 minutes or so I give up and go and hoover the floor.”

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