Gillian Clarke said in her book ‘At the Source’: ‘Writing is informed by the whole self and the whole life lived.’
It’s a topic that is debated time and again at the writers retreat. What we see, hear, feel, touch, experience goes to feed our store which we draw on at different times for our creativity and it’s fascinating to uncover some thought, feeling or memory that has been buried over time.
Of course there is sometimes a dilemma: should you create total fiction or could you add fiction to a life lived. The advice suggests we write about what you know. If you don’t know – then find out!
I was interested to listen to a writer talking about characters and situation that appear, seemingly from out of the blue. He said he had no idea where they came from and by asking himself questions the answers to the writing dilemmas were solved. This is very much like the self-interview technique I favour when writing my journal and once again it’s about mining the body for remembered experience. We should trust ourselves to solve problems.
Can we write about what we don’t know? That’s a strange question I suppose because writers often explore characters who are totally different from their own personality traits and experience. It would be awful to only write from a subjective perspective.
However, I don’t think that was what I meant. It’s the kind of question that sits neatly with, ‘Does a thought without language exist?’ There is lots to debate, like how do we articulate feelings we experience but can’t describe? But I shall leave those philosophical questions for another day.
I do wonder though, can there possibly be a word for everything that is felt? Who defines these things? Who is the arbiter of language? After all it’s one thing to articulate or enunciate something for the first time but something totally different to develop an epistemology from that idea that moulds and forms an idea and which may not finally be wholly appropriate to the starting point.
We should not underestimate the place of feeling – just knowing without quite being conscious of how we know. It’s like knowing the subtlety of rhythm in poetry, what Gillian Clarke calls ‘the breathe and pace’ of a line. I think that’s poignant makes reference to a time when our bodies were actually used as units of measurement: an inch was the width of a thumb, the foot, 12 inches, a yard three feet, hand span and cubit and so on.
I suppose what I am pondering is the idea that an attempt by a writer to work up emotion or imagery, without really feeling it often fails to convince. It is as if what we write must flow through us; our experience is the conduit through which our imagination flows, even if we are exploring new territory.
Anyway, it’s a beautiful evening, I think it’s time to take a walk and live life outside this writers retreat for a while. A pace, a breath, evening bird song and the sun’s residual warmth radiating from the stones will prompt all kinds of new ideas I’m sure.Tags: Gillian Clarke, writers retreat