Monday, August 29, 2005


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 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.

The Art of Fiction

It's a wet bank holiday, and therefore not so strange to be sat at the computer starting a weblog called "The Art of Fiction." The title is taken from an essay by Henry James, which has always seemed as good a starting point as any to a discussion on the creative process. It's perhaps also reassuring that almost as long as writers have been creating fiction, they've complained about things going to the dogs. In the past I've used a weblog for a number of reasons, but this time out, I'm setting myself a few small rules.

1. I will concentrate on the creative process
2. I will ignore, as much as is possible, the "business" of fiction
3. Where I refer to other writers or writing, I will do it by example

In the last 18 months "weblogs" have become commonplace, and although still in the format of a diary, it is not the diarist, as much as the newspaper columnist who comes to mind when reading the best of them.

For some time I've been struggling with the "purpose" of creativity and of striving to write good work, when one is doing so outside of the prevailing culture. In short, with little access to or affinity with mainstream publishing, what is the underlying point, value and aim of such endeavour? Am I still a writer and, if so, what sort of writer am I trying to be? These are general questions without an answer at the moment; but I have always felt strongly that all art requires a robust critical culture, otherwise it leaves all value judgements to that of either the market, or a small number of "guardians" of the that culture - and, that from reading the lives and letters of many of the writers I admire, that almost all of them benefited from a certain exegesis of their work.