Just got back from a very interesting reading / talk at Jewish Book Week, which is underway here in London at the moment. The author, Nicole Krauss, was there to talk about her latest offering; Great House. Having not read the book, nor her most well-known novel to date – The History of Love – I went to this event based on the blurb I read on the Jewish Book Weekwebsite, because something sparked an interest in me, and I was curious to hear the writer talk about her books and writing them.
Being a writer myself I am always interested to hear about other writers’ creative processes and how their particular novels / short stories / poetry come into being. I find it fascinating to find outall the different ways in which people go about their writing. Some seem to very purposefully decide on a topic to write on, do all the necessary research and then set our on their narrative journey. Others, like Ms Krauss, it seems, do it almost the other way around; the writing comes first, then they proof it, to make sure that non-fictious places tally with reality and work within the storyline. Others, still, do something in between, and I suppose that all of these variations, all these different methods, is stuff that falls within the definition of artistic licence.
Listening to Nicole Krauss and fellow author Naomi Alderman [Disobedience, The Lessons], who chaired this event, discussing their particular ways of relating to their writing and the worlds they create made me think about how I write.
One of the things I’ve always been very aware of is that I enjoy writing in much the same way I enjoy reading; the sense of taking a step out of my day-to-day life, into this parallel world which, although it exists in black and white in a very tangible way, for the most part is created somewhere in my mind, at the very moment of reading or writing.
In fact, I would say that I actually write in the same way that I read; I rarely know what will come next. I may have a general idea of the direction the plot may take me, what the essence is, what the message is, but it is not at all uncommon for one or more of the characters to wreak havoc with my plans by not acting or reacting in the way I had intended. I’ve spent more frustrating hours than I care to remember, trying to find a way around these curveballs, to get back on my track, only to – ultimately – scrap my original idea in favour of allowing the characters to remain true to who they are, to be congruently themselves, through and through, rather than force my own personal morals or thought patterns onto them.
One of the things both Krauss and Alderman seemed to agree on was that readers generally have a deep-seated wish to understand the various characters as aspects of the author, that they inevitably offer some insight into who the person who conjured them up is, and that they [the readers] somewhat stubbornly refuse to accept that the characters were, in fact, borne entirely out of the writer’s imagination, and are not necessarily semi-transparent carbon copies of the author’s own self.
Now, while I kind of get that – not every character has the characteristics of its creator, I must also concede that in myparticular case, most of my characters do carry a fair bit of me inside of them. It’s something that shines through somewhere between the words and the commas and the semi-colons. That is not to say that they are all me to the same degree, but they do have a certain something about them, that absolutely comesfrom me. Even when I write characters who are, on paper, [no pun intended] as different to me as day is to night, when I read back, often years later, I will discover that they trigger a memory of the person I was at the time, traits of my personality that I may not particularly wish to admit to having, but nonetheless it is plain to see that I possess.
Anyway, it’s getting late and I’m rambling – an unfortunate side-effect of writing like I read; I tend to not edit myself in the moment, but just write whatever comes to mind, in rather an insequential manner..
Thus, I must stop here, or I may never stop..
I leave you with a painting I made earlier today. Another illustration of my creative process: the painting is called “Fire” and is about feeling destructive, and so, my way of painting this was to paint in layers.. so, even thought you can’t see it in this the final version of the picture there was actually a night sky and a green luminous tree in the background – before I “set fire” to it..
Be good to yourselves,
PS. I have already packed both Krauss’ The History of Love and Alderman’s Disobedience and I hope to be able to read them over the next few days, when I’m in Gothenborg.