Sunday, June 01, 2008

The need to be ready to write

Anne Enright writes about the difficulty of starting a novel, and the tricky conditions required for doing so, including one's own emotional relationship to the material. What comes over is an impression that the ability to get going on a piece is not ultimately under the author's conscious control or will.

I've written something similar on this blog, but after reading the Enright piece I got to thinking that actually, sometimes being forced to start writing rather than waiting around for the ripe moment or 'inspiration' is useful, and fruitful (well I hope it was for me!). All but the first two of my radio plays were written to commission and deadline, as were at least two of the stories in Balancing: 'The Way to Behave', which was commissioned for the Bitchlit anthology, and 'Into the Night' which was requested for a Welsh anthology of erotic stories (though the anthology never happened - not enough Welsh writers came up with erotic stories!) I've also written here agreeing with AL Kennedy that literary competitions which dictate subject-matter militate against innovation, but both of these short stories were responses to prescribed themes.

I guess, though, it's more a question of being lucky if the prescribed theme or the imposed deadline fits your own prior state of readiness, because unless you're in the 'zone' whatever you write will be dead in the water before it swims.


Tania Hershman said...

This is interesting, as your blog always is. I wrote about this recently in terms of a writing schedule - I thought setting aside several hours each day as "writing time" would be a good thing, but I wasn't sure, as a short story writer, how this fit into the concept of the "zone", which doesn't seem, to me, as something that can be forced. I do agree thought that being ready is important, so perhaps all I am doing in much of my writing time is getting myself ready. Time will tell!

Elizabeth Baines said...

Hi Tania. As you say in your piece, if I remember correctly, for a novel though it's simply necessary to set time aside each day as far as possible, otherwise the thing just doesn't get written. But then I have found that writing a novel means being 'in the zone' - ie the dream of it - pretty permanently so it's easier to do that. Stories are much more demanding on that EMOTIONAL level, as I think you indicate also: each one needs a whole new emotional engagement and attention, which is difficult to conjure on a routine basis.

On the other hand, I do try to write every day if I'm not doing something else: that old advice of sitting at the desk even if you're not 'inspired' and writing SOMETHING just to see if something else comes has worked for me: it's a question, I think of sometimes being able to force yourself into the zone. I think the trick is not to mind, though, if nothing comes, but to get up and go and do something else - I often find that it's after I've given up that the ideas come in sideways after all!