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The Solitary World of a Writer

June 21, 2011

Copyright © 2011 Theena Kumaragurunathan

The book is taking shape.

Like the clay the potter shapes into all manner of things, what will be my first book began as nothing more than a mound of clay. I would stare at it, constantly asking myself what, if anything, could be made out of this mess. Over four years of staring, reading, re-writing, editing and repeating the cycle has paid some dividend. Looking back, I am glad I quit my semi-comfy job last year to focus on the writing.

Today I have eight thematically joined pieces, four short stories and poems – in various stages of editing, revising and, in one case, polishing – that I am proud of and would be happy to show to the world.  But this piece isn’t about the results, rather it is the process.

Sportsmen have coaches to guide them on the mental and technical approaches to their games. Musicians and actors receive their baptisms in the fire of collective public glare, of audience and band mates, which help them refine their respective artforms over time.

A writer on the other hand is usually denied this. Ours is a solitary amusement. It can be argued that writers in this day and age are better off; unlike some of our quill and ink or typewriter-bound, writing-under-candle-light predecessors, the sheer range of modern conveniences, writing technologies and platforms, workshops and residencies allows us the chance to polish our work in more-forgiving environments. While that is true – and I have taken advantage of some of these workshops in Sri Lanka – I found the focus on ‘reading-aloud-what-you-wrote’ followed by ‘I thought it was great!!!!!’ (and the ever popular ‘I didn’t like it…I don’t know why. Just didn’t’) kind of critique a bit tiring. I was in it to understand the process first and critique second.

I came to realize the process is something only the writer is privy to. In my case, it came with a degree of self-awareness brought upon by a potent cocktail of circumstance, debauchery and plain grope-in-the-dark experimentation. Which is cool. Writers hoping to cull the little beads of inspiration life throws at them are risking a piece themselves, risking being hit where it hurts most.

If they are prepared to.

And I am. Always have. From the time my dad bought my sister and I those Ladybird classics, I wondered if I could be a writer myself. For the past two years a tiny voice in my head has been saying, ‘Yes’. Encouragingly, it is sounding quite increasingly resounding, despite the fact that these two years have at times been the darkest days of my life.

Process is sometimes mistaken as a technical thing: your writing technique, clarity of thought, economy of language, those things that we writers look for in any good writer. But seeing the development of your writing from the perspective of a potential reader is another. Readers don’t buy books to understand and be awed by technique, they buy it to read stories well told. That has been the biggest revelation this year for me. Sounds simple and certainly not dripping in profundity, but to be able to distance myself from my own writing as my writing, reading it as a potential reader would, and critiquing it from that standpoint has made me a better writer.

I would love to know what other writers make of this. Are you self-aware of your creative process as a writer? Or is it an innate thing that you don’t think about?

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. June 21, 2011 9:09 am

    It is conscious. It is hard work. Conscious effort goes into the creative process so that when the writing is polished, it sounds effortless.

  2. June 24, 2011 8:11 am

    Olivia,

    First off, my apologies for the late (and still due) responses.

    Thank you for your thoughts on the writing process. I asked because this I am interested in the approaches to composition that writers and musicians embark on. I’ve spoken to some musicians and writers who say they are unaware of the process that helps them write, prose and/or music. As if it’s some magical thing they’d rather not know anything about.

    As someone who is interested in creativity in general, I am wondering how that can result in sustainable results over a long period. Without the benefit of a process to act as a safety net, how do such writers/musicians recover during times when there is a dearth in inspiration, and continue to produce work?

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