Thursday, April 12, 2007

Something about Nothing

So I’ve come here with nothing, and not for the first time. It is, after all, “good writing practice” to turn up at the page without any particular agenda. You begin to move the pen across the page or, in this case, tap your fingers on the keys (I like these ones, they have a resistance and you can give them a bit of a bash, makes you feel you’re actually doing something) and then before you know it, for better or worse, you have a post, a poem, the beginning of a story, a fragment, a something. A couple of lines from an old school hymn begin to hum inside my head. I would like to push them away but they are very insistent:

“Nothing in my hands I bring,
Simply to thy cross I cling”

I have nothing to say about this except that the creative unconscious works in mischievous ways its wonders to perform. It pushed out those last few words as well and is having a right laugh at my expense, I can tell you. The idea being that you come to the empty page with nothing and trust in the renewing and renewable power of the creative impulse to fill you and the page, just as the faithful come to the altar ready to receive the holy spirit. A poet of my acquaintance does describe the business of turning up at the page as being like a priest’s office in that you have to do it whether you feel like it or not, whatever your mood or inclination and even without a single member of congregation present and if you don’t want to commit then don’t be a priest/poet (delete where appropriate).

Personally, I prefer to talk about going to the coalface. When setting exercises for new students I would often favour the kind that had them putting pen to paper immediately and writing without much pause and less thought for as long as I saw fit in order to break through a few initial inhibitions and brush aside the gremlins that whispered how they weren’t allowed to write anything until they thought they had something worth saying – in which case we might all (with the exception of the students who came with a master plan to write the new Da Vinci Code or Harry Potter and wanted advice about how to market themselves and their yet-to-be-written best-seller) have sat there until kingdom come. I liked to tell my students that I too had “been to the coalface” and asked nothing of them that I hadn’t done myself, which was the truth. Apart from the idea that what they were about to do was real work, I quite liked the image of hacking away until you hit a seam. And unlike the idea of turning up with nothing in your hands, you carried a pickaxe (your voice, your style, your pen) which you had to use to get at the precious stuff.

So here I’ll be tomorrow, hacking away at a new poem, and because of where I am at right now (see previous post) I haven’t got a clue what I’ll be writing about, I will just be putting out words on paper (blue ballpoint, new notebook – shocking pink, a gift) and where there was nothing there will be something.

Time for bed, as Zebedee once said – a very long time ago.


That's so pants said...

I envy the quality of your recall. Whenever I try to conjure an inspirational snippet I end up with,

It's my theme tune, my lovely theme tune, it goes on and on.

from the Charlotte Church Show

Reading the Signs said...

Well I don't conjure it up, Ms P, 'tis in my psyche stored along with "stand by your man", "pregnant with celestial fire" and now, since the prog about Karen Carpenter the other day, with "every shalalala, every whoa whoa whoa" etc. It's pandemonium sometimes I can tell you.

Better than "it's my theme tune", though.

moon-on-water said...

I envy you. For the last year I have been too distracted by things going on in my life to have the peace and perseverence to pursue those golden nuggets you are catching in your sieve. But I am not getting myself into a lather. For the time, I am content to play out the things that are actively taking out of my head and into the world, for now. I have a sense i will come back to my notebooks, and maybe I will have stored up some pearls from this time.

Anonymous said...

Signs, call me a shallow fellow, but your last two posts have really hit home with me. I feel like I am getting my creative writing lessons here, reading you.

When I was an actor, I loved the idea of preparing as much as possible during the weeks of rehearsal. Not only onstage in working the blocking out but also in the library, researching things. When performances came, it was time to throw it all away and just "be." Trust what you have learned and just let things come, receive them and just be. Acting is reacting afterall. I think writing is a bit like that -- reacting.

“Nothing in my hands I bring,
Simply to thy cross I cling”

I never heard that and do so love it. Thanks for the lesson, Signs.

Reading the Signs said...

Hi moon-on-water (poem in a name, I reckon) - I sometimes think that writing comes out of inner pressure rather than anything else. But yes, a bit of space is also necessary for most people - I do know writers that keep on in the most unbelievably trying of circumstances. Good luck.

goodthomas, I'll have to think about that. I think writing comes from an inner response to something even if one doesn't know where it's from so maybe yes, it is reacting.

I'm glad you liked the fragment - I must admit it baffles me the way things I haven't remembered for years float to the surface in response to something I'm saying or writing about - almost as though they're having a bit of a joke on me (especially if it isn't the kind of thing I would intentionally put).

I hope you post something about your life as an actor some time - or perhaps you have and I missed it.

That's so pants said...

I saw the Carpenters Special as well - wonderful and tragic. I didn't know she played the drums. It was such an amazing contrast between her and Richard. Her total lack of a sense of self was the polar opposite to his complete awareness of same. I found that truly shocking.

Reading the Signs said...

I found him a bit scary to be honest, but I agree - it was moving. And those tunes.

Liezl said...

You've got me thinking now Signs--that maybe instead of moaning all the time to my friends, I should start a blog and do something more constructive with my moaning--that is if I don't have time to become 'with poem'...

Reading the Signs said...

Go on, Liezl, do it!