Tuesday, April 06, 2010

Sand and Fog

Sand culture by Pants

Thomas Mann said,

'A writer is someone for whom writing is more difficult than it is for other people.'

It's an assertion that would be tough to verify as difficulty can be interpreted in a number of different ways. For some the difficulty might be in starting in the first place and this could have several causes. Perhaps they can't start because they don't have a subject. Perhaps they can't start because they don't have the time. Perhaps they can't start because their version of Word is not compatible with their new laptop's operating system. These are all obstacles but do they signify a difficulty in writing or something else, like a lack of organisational skills for example? There are people for whom writing is so difficult that they never do any at all. Are these people the best of us?

The first two obstacles listed above are no problem for me. I have both subjects and time in abundance. The third I will get sorted as soon as I can overcome the displeasure of spending money to replace something that is in perfect order with something I have to spend time orientating myself to. For me, the writing itself is not difficult and not particularly joyless as it is for some. John Banville said in an interview on The Book Show played yesterday that he begins a novel with the feeling that he is about to write 'the best novel ever' and that surety is gradually eroded in the doing until he ends up with something complete but flawed. I would say my 'process' is quite the opposite, although the outcome is the same.

I begin with no confidence at all that I will produce anything vaguely coherent. My head is in the same place when I begin writing as it is when I go into a job interview - something I am almost suicidally crap at. Yet I enter and I start and I make it to the end. I have been known to get the odd job, although that defies explanation. It's never that I am ill-prepared, it's just that I can be relied upon to forget everything I ever knew as soon as I am called upon to extrapolate. It's the same with writing. I sit down to write and logical thought takes that as a cue for a day off.

I guess I'm like this with most things. I can usually remember how to drive the car and make scrambled eggs but anything more complicated and I'm a freshly lobotomised Lindsay Lohan. It was the same when I was writing music. I'd sit down and not remember how to play the piano. I'm like this with drawing as well although there is more of an excuse as I've never learned to draw properly so technically I really don't know how to do it. Every day I sit down and try to draw something and I eventually succeed and it does look more or less as I conceived it and it's always a huge surprise.

At the moment I'm doing a lot of drawing as a friend has asked me to have a go at illustrating some children's stories that are set in a rock pool. This is a very nice pursuit as it involves going to the beach and looking at real rock pools for quite a long time. I have probably been doing more of this type of research than is strictly necessary but it is amazing how much more you see when you are staring into rock pools for a reason. This will probably be a difficult undertaking as my friend doesn't want anything too young and cartoonish but fancies something a little more abstract. Then again abstract is good if you're not very good at drawing realistically, which I most definitely am not.

I keep thinking of something the artist Paul Klee said about 'taking a line for a walk'. This seems like a good way to approach art, and indeed writing. You don't necessarily need to know where you're going when you set off for a walk. You just need to remember where the front door is and have a fair idea of how to get back home again. Now, where did I leave that line?