Monday, August 29, 2005

Mornings

I am generally not a "morning person", yet I can write in the mornings. I can also do some of those more mundane tasks that if you leave till later in the day when you're more alert, will simply seem a drag. This morning, as well as beginning this blog, which despite being simple to do, still requires an element of organisation; I've stapled together around 30 copies of the new issue of the magazine I co-edit, which is certainly a mundane task, but one that needs doing. Yet, at other times, I've found it easy to write at this time. One's heart is quieter, for want of a better phrase, and that helps. Although the heart certainly has its place in writing, it's necessarily not the most quiescent of organs. If you can write in the mornings then it has its advantages, though I feel there's some privilege to it. I've read about these bestselling novelists who get up at 5.00 to do an hours scribbling before going to their job in the City or as a Lawyer, and its admirable but somewhat exhausting. My old creative writing tutor, Richard Francis, told me that he wrote every day, and that was the best for way him. I can understand it, and have friends who also seem to do that. There's something forbidding about a novel, its length, the time it takes, the complex patterns you need to keep in your head/get down on paper, and like any complex task, a dilettante-ish approach (i.e. mine!) can be disastrous. But then again, I'm never that sure if I'm actually writing a novel! Even when I was, I certainly wasn't writing the novel every day, in fact, I kept writing short stories, in particular, as an alternative to the longer work. In a recent issue of Transmission Magazine, a Manchester fiction magazine that has come out of the same Creative Writing programme as I came from, editor Dan McTiernan quotes from Julia Cameron's "The Artists Way." "Every morning get up and write 3 pages of longhand, stream-of-consciousness writing....do not re-read them...never skimp or skip on Morning Pages." Though anything that works for one person, I wouldn't dismiss, this does seem ridiculous, even as a loosening up exercise. For a start, 3 pages of stream-of-consciousness writing does, in itself, take energies, and if the writer is any good in the first place, then there's likely to be something good in there regardless. Secondly, as I've said earlier in the post, the mornings can be a good place to start the real writing. Perhaps a more fundamental difficulty here, is the source of the advice. Cameron's most well known book is this one, not some creative work. I prefer to quote Kingsley Amis quoting Philip Larkin "You know how when you start in the morning it's like getting blood out of a stone to begin with, with lots of time spent just staring at the blank paper...and then you gradually speed up so that after an hour or more the stuff's coming quite easily." Amis makes the point that this slow, but necessary starting, can have its artistic benefits - that these early words, might make it all the way to the final version; whereas later, when we're giddy with our facility, we let go even the sloppiest mistakes.

2 comments:

asylum said...

Just as a postscript to your Julia Cameron comments...

While she recommends that you don’t read your work for the first eight weeks or so of ‘morning pages’, she then says you can look back through them and states, in the Artists Way, that she has used many good ideas from morning pages in her own writing.

But if she’s not deemed to be suitably literary due to her lack of published novels – she has written Hollywood film scripts – then perhaps John Steinbeck meets your criteria?

Steinbeck’s Journal of a Novel is almost exactly the same idea. It is a collection of diary, letters, rough musings, stream-of-consciousness etc. that formed the ‘warm up’ for his day’s work while writing East of Eden. Warming up can often be very useful and ‘morning pages’ are simply a form of that…

Bournemouth Runner said...

Thanks for the pointer to Steinbeck's Journal of a Novel. Whatever works for each writer is important - I don't know anything about Julia Cameron, other than what was written here, and "don't read your work for 8 weeks or so" seems a little bossy, but I tend to prefer advice from other writers whom I like, rather than how to write books. Horses for courses, I guess, I didn't even like "Eats, Shoots and Leaves" - thought it appallingly written!