(This post came from an email exchange between Marc and I after I had been worrying about losing my creativity. Marc was happy to have his process shared here)
I’ve read books on the sources of creativity, mainly by psychologists & analysts. None really clinch it for me. You’ve probably got your own ideas on it. Mine are hardly scientific. In a way it’s akin to the dreaming process, which is apposite since much of my “creativity” seems to emerge from that same unconscious realm. I may not be working on a piece of writing, but a solution to a writing problem, or a conjunction of ideas previously not made, can come to me at the most surprising of moments. Usually when I’m trying to empty my mind in preparation for dropping off to sleep, that space where what has been held at bay throughout the rest of the workaday hours of life, now free to be invaded by that which emerges from the deepest core of me, the writer.
Creativity seems to me to be akin to dreams because it is not logical. I don’t know what you believe of all the dream theories, but to me it partly represents the brain trying to process all the irregular bytes of information that it can’t slot into easy niches of its synaptic RAM. That’s why dreams always have such surprising associations and juxtapositions of people/images/events that we would never consciously associate together. The brain is almost trying to wedge them into a flush dovetail join, just like a toddler with one of those shape toys, who is failing to ram a square brick into a crescent shaped hole. I think creativity, in making the associations we just don’t foresee is similar. What underpins the things brought together is most likely to be an emotional or affective feeling. That’s why I think no matter how currently blocked a writer may be, the block will shift. Those emotional states are there. Those images & experiences are there. We are constantly working on them at a very deep level and in time they will be unlocked. The feelings and experiences can’t disappear. Writers are people who are prepared to be open to these experiences and feelings, to work on them and to utilise their output. Psychoanalysts work with the same experiences and feelings of their clients, but they would kill them for any writer in the way they are worked on, not least because they are refracted through a very rigid lens of psychoanalysis which clips the wings of these rich and diversely interpretable experiences.
What we may lack is the stillness for the results of our deep level ruminations to come up to the surface. Real life and emotional states may preclude it. But they are there. The work is continuing apace. A writer never loses that process. The physical impediments to it surfacing are unlikely to remain in place for ever. Once you have laid down the processes that produce these richly creative associations you are a writer. And even if temporarily blocked, those processes are still laid down. They don’t disappear. They don’t wither on the vine. You have to trust to yourself that they will resurface, when circumstances allow.
And that’s kind of how my process works. I get the germ of a novel. Usually a central image and a voice (not character, but voice, which to me contains character). The association of those two things that normally one wouldn’t necessarily bring together (the mysterious source of creative thought as discussed above). In the case of my debut novel, it was the idea of a gangster’s moll (and accordingly the voice) and being holed up in a Club 18-30 holiday resort. How? Why? When? I have no idea. I’d read the odd gangster’s autobiography. Been struck by the role of the wife and the relative lack of voice for them in such a world. Watched those dreadful programmes with jaw-dropping awe about young British tourists abroad, like ‘”Ibiza Uncovered” and “Holiday Reps” and now “Sun, Sea & Suspicious Parents”. While I was consuming both these strands, presumably I was consuming lots of other input from TV, radio, books, conversations? And yet these were the two that knitted together somewhere in my addled brain. My current work sparked off the physics of Einstein’s theories on relativity and the notion of observation as conducted by a private eye.
With this jumping off point, I then proceed to do nothing for 6 months but let the ideas seethe away in my creative subconscious. Occasionally I’ll make a note or two, but I won’t start writing anything. I may read around the subject, but usually not. What I don’t understand about this stage is how chunks of the work don’t come to me as they do once I’ve formally sat down to write it. It’s like my brain is keeping my powder dry for me, which is a very odd mechanism, but one I think I’m grateful for. Because when I do finally sit down to write it, the build up all comes out. I write as a momentum writer. It often comes out fully formed in parts, even though I haven’t rehearsed it consciously in my mind (my flash is very different, often I have rehearsed that in my mind, usually while lying awake in bed and can write it virtually fully-formed the next morning. At a flesh & blood writing group I briefly attended, I’d forgotten to bring the print off of a flash I was going to read. But was able to reconstruct maybe 85% of it during the recital from memory, because that reconstruction was how I’d effectively written it in the first place, reconstructing it from the mental going over of it lying in bed). When I say I’m a momentum writer, I mean I build up a head of steam which propels the writing along. It’s Monte Carlo or bust effectively, I have to get to the end of the first draft, so there is no turning back & re-editing. The momentum carries me through the plot (such as I indulge in plots). My inability to build up momentum right now is what’s making the WIP such a hard grind for me.
In the momentum zone, I sleep badly, eat badly, neglect the nearest & dearest. I finish writing at about 1am and then lie in bed still formulating chunks of text to set down the next day for at least 2 hours as my febrile brain winds down its activity. The next morning I start by reconstructing that 2 hours worth of work in bed and then press on. This is why I feel my processes aren’t terribly instructive to fellow writers. In this state, the words do literally course through my veins and prevent me from sleeping. That’s how wrapped up my body is in what I do, way more than any mental notions of the identity of a writer.
And that’s it, that’s my process for the first draft. It’s compressed into a relatively short span of intense writing and is largely all knitted up (though not unfailingly so) through the process of letting it lie for those 6 months and working at a subconscious level. This is again why I say the fact that someone is not currently writing, does not portend they’ll never be able to write fiction again. The work is continuing. It will out when it is ready. When the connections and associations have been made.
I’m sure this is of very limited use to you and your processes. But I offer it simply as a way of saying don’t lose faith in your abilities. Your back catalogue proves you possess all the tools and have and can turn a blank screen into a published novel. You just have to trust yourself, even if you can’t definitively say when the next fiction book will arrive on the galleys. You are a writer. You will always be a writer. There may be a question in some cases of a writer simply running out of material to write about. That their store of experiences can no longer yield them fresh associations. Firstly I judge you to be so far removed from such a person, just from our conversations – you have a rich storehouse of experiences, you still pursue fresh knowledge and insight, you are still grappling with the world around you. For secondly, any such person who runs out of source material, probably isn’t much of a writer in the first place, being insufficiently stimulated by the things around them. And thirdly, how many established authors make a career out of rewriting the same limited first book over and over again!
Be in no doubt Viv, the fiction will come back on track. Only you might not be able to determine the timescale, which I appreciate brings its own frustrations. But if you can separate out the fact that it’s not flowing right now, from any illusion that it may never flow again, then you have permission not to beat yourself up about it. Maybe my greatest achievement as a writer, is not to give myself a hard time when I’m not writing.
You can find out more about Marc’s work, his books and his thoughts in one or more of these places:
http://marcnash.weebly.com Website “A,B&E”