The parts of the novel I’m working on that I have already written, and that I like best, all seem to have come about through improvisation – the more unconscious the writing, the less I was thinking as I wrote it, the better.
Which ought to make progress easy: improvise more. Except it doesn’t, because improvising doesn’t come easy.
So I need to understand the times when it does come easy: what are the circumstances, what materials do I need for the best improvising?
An initial list – circumstances: start first thing in the morning, as little interaction with other people as possible… certainly no interaction with the internet. Materials: not too much pre-plotting that will limit improvisation… but some idea of the direction, otherwise too many possiblities… good knowledge of the characters…
(My list will no doubt be different from the lists of others.)
Following the news that wages for the under 30’s have fallen by 11% in the last 5 years, GraduateFog, a website for career-seeking graduates, wrote an article about graduates’ attitudes to having less money:
But a Channel 4 News report provided a fascinating insight into this age group’s attitude towards the future. Economics editor Paul Mason interviewed set designers Charlotte Osborn and Samara Tompsett, both 27, who run a ‘collective’ company called Morning. Both women – who had done internships, part-time work and moved from job to job since graduating – looked pretty skint. But they also seemed remarkably cheerful and hopeful. This is how the interview went:
Paul Mason: How long has it been since you’ve had a regular, well-paid job? Samara Tompsett: [laughs] I’ve never had a regular, well-paid job. Mason: You’ve never had a regular, well-paid job? Both women: [laugh] No! Mason: Do you expect to have one? Tompsett: Well, we expect that what we’re doing now will build up to become something that we can call a regular, well-paid job, but at the same time that it will always be… not. It will always be slightly odd. We don’t know any different, because we’ve never… We came in [to the workforce] at the beginning of that [recession]. So I don’t know what it would be like to have a lot more money.
I love these graduates’ attitude. Who cares if you have little money, if you’re managing to do work that you love?
The difficulty is managing to feel like to still have status in society even though you have little money. Perhaps the lack of graduate careers and reduced earnings will cause more people do find (badly- or un-) paid work of their own that they really love – rather than poorly paid career jobs that they later discover they really hate.
But I think unemployment is the great affliction of man. Even people with jobs are unemployed. In fact, most people with jobs are unemployed. I can say, happily and gratefully, that I am fully employed. Maybe all hard work means is fully employed.
The young Kundera dreamed of creating a work in which the bridges and the filler have no reason to be, and in which the novelist would never be forced – for the sake of form and its dictates – to stray by even a single line from what he cares about, what fascinates him.
Whether part-time innovators are ‘better than everything on radio’ or not is a matter of opinion. But I notice a strange phenomenon when experiencing the paintings or songs or other work of people I know personally: they have an additional value to me beyond what might be experienced by a stranger, brought about by my knowledge of the personality of the artist, and of the process that created the work.
You might say: what is the point of just making stuff if no one hears/reads/sees it? But the number of people is not really relevant to the satisfaction: making stuff is everything, prestige almost nothing.
The most recent understanding of ‘think process’ came about during one of those writing occasions when thinking ‘why the hell am I doing this?’. Because whereas product is the end result story or essay or artefact that comes into existence at one moment in time, process is where you spend most of your time before that end point. And since so much more time is spent on process, much more effort should be made in making it a good process.
Because if I do not think about this process, focus on enjoying this process, focus on changing and discovering the process that gives me the most pleasure in making work, then why am I here, why am I doing this? If I have no inclination to write, why am I bothering? So that I can have a career comprised of this process that I find frustrating and unfulfilling?
So ‘think process’ also means ‘work out how you best take pleasure from work’. And happily, this is how the product turns out for the better.
Highlighting the use of keeping a diary/journal: as a record of the events that have meaning for you, and so those which are writing source material – even if how they are source material is not immediately obvious. (Also, a great answer to the repeated question to myself, ‘why exactly am I keeping this journal?’).
An old saying that I can’t stand is, “You don’t get if you don’t ask.” [My career really started when] I did a little reading in Chicago at a club. It was just a silly show, but Ira Glass happened to be in the audience. He introduced himself and then he called me a couple of years later and…
David Sedaris on the difference between getting yourself out there and self-promotion/marketing. If the self-promotion is more visible than the (good) content, don’t do it.
In order to actually start writing the next time I sit down
At the end of each block of time writing, make a note of the strategy for starting next time.
No matter if I do not stick to the strategy – I just need something to get me going. Made worse because it is so hard to remember how good writing has happened in the past. So instead of remembering good writing, remember good process.