Neither Fish Nor Fowl

Books
Books (Photo credit: henry…)

 

I am being naughty. I am sitting on the sofa, snacking on almonds, drinking my nth coffee of the day.  Which would be all fine and good, if I were doing it to fuel my work. My day job: because I have a squeaky-new, hot-off-the-press course to prepare and learn so that I can deliver it on Monday. Instead, I mooch around, resenting the work I have to do, leaving it once again until it is far too late, so that panic, sleepless nights and last-minute palpitations have to set in. Not exactly setting myself up for roaring professional success!

 

What I would like to do is finish my novel, finesse some poems, try out some new ideas I’ve been getting on and off (mostly off).  However, turning my back on what I ought to be doing for the sake of what I would enjoy induces too much guilt. So I end up doing neither. Instead, I read about how others are working on their books, going through the final edits, combining their day job with creative genius.  I vacillate between inspiration and desperation. End up feeling even more guilty, of course, and with nothing to show for my efforts at the end of the day.

 

I read somewhere that having a day job nourishes and enhances your writing. Or, at the very least, it makes you appreciate each little window of time opening up to you. So what is wrong with me that I find it harder and harder to appreciate the interplay between the two?

 

I remind myself how much T. S. Eliot despised his banking job and how his Bloomsbury friends (‘poor Tom’ crops up repeatedly in Virginia Woolf’s diaries) tried to drum up some money for him so he could dedicate himself to his writing. In the end, he found his work-life balance at Faber, but I do wonder if he might have been more prolific if circumstances had been kinder.

 

Creating ‘in spite of’ rather than ‘inspired by’. Hmmm, I wonder… Do adverse circumstances help to distill your work and bring out the truly essential? Or do they just lock you down mid-flow and mid-sentence?

 

A plaque at SOAS's Faber Building, 24 Russell ...
A plaque at SOAS’s Faber Building, 24 Russell Square, London. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

Developing the Creative Habit

The Creative HabitI am currently reading Twyla Tharp’s ‘The Creative Habit’ and I think of it as my own personal creativity coach.  Twyla Tharp, of course, is a dancer and choreographer, but her principles and suggested exercises are applicable across a wide range of creative disciplines.  And here we have that key word ‘discipline’, which perhaps only a dancer truly understands.  But let me use Ms. Tharp’s own words:

‘It is the perennial debate, born in the Romantic era, between the beliefs that all creative acts are born of (a) some transcendent, inexplicable Dionysian act of inspiration, a kiss from God on  your brow that allow you to give the world The Magic Flute, or (b) hard work.  … I come down on the side of hard work…. Creativity is a habit and the best creativity is a result of good work habits…. In order to be creative you have to know how to prepare to be creative.’

In other words, in order to reach the highest pinnacles of achievement that you are capable of, you need to do your warming up exercises.  You need to put in the practice and talent will find you (and she gives Mozart as an example, the hours and hours of practice and study that he put in as a child, the 24 symphonies that he wrote almost as a ‘draft’ before he finally wrote a good one).

For a long time, I was of the opposite school of thought.  Because I had moments in my teens when I was suddenly struck by flashes of inspiration, I thought that all I needed was a quiet place and enough time to commune with my Muse.  Inspiration would come again.  Some automatic dictation would occur.  But as I grew up and life got more complicated, the opportunities for introspection became limited, as did the time I could dedicate to creative writing.  I fell silent for far too many years, waiting for that flash of elusive inspiration.

Still, still, I stubbornly clung to the belief that an hour or ten minutes or 500 words or whatever daily routine I would try to establish could have no value.  Me?  Write without being inspired?  Good heavens and all evidence to the contrary, no!  And then I found my teen-age diaries and began to realise that my ‘moments of genius’ (as I thought of them back then, no matter how my overblown poetry makes me cringe now) were surrounded by utmost focus on literature.  I was reading huge amounts daily (and really analysing texts, too), I was writing for hours in my diary, letters, book reviews, prose and poetry.  I was learning new things every day and exploring them through my writing.  I am astonished at just how productive and hard-working the 15 year old Marina was.

So I have now converted to Twyla Tharp’s school of thought about hard work.  Yes, I now have a lot more obligations and preoccupations than a fifteen year old, but I still have to do a vast amount of practice, whether I like the results of those training sessions or not.  I have to make creativity a daily habit.

Or, as Pablo Picasso put it even more succinctly: ‘Inspiration exists, but it has to find you working.’