Thursday, August 06, 2009

One shot 1

I am sometimes gripped by a burning question that I have to ask just about everyone. So I decided to indulge it this time... I went ahead and asked a load of great writers what they thought, and most of them were kind enough to give me a response. I present those responses here for you to check out.

Please have a look at all of them. You may find that your favourite ones are spread out all over and not all stacked at the front. Many thanks to all who responded.

You may think this question is a bit basic, but probably that's why I like it:

"When it's going well, what does writing feel like for you?"

I suppose it's like swimming underwater - head down, no coming up for air, getting lost in the depths. But in a good way and with no lingering smell of chlorine.

..... Matt Haig's books include The Last Family in England and children's book The Runaway Troll

Like heroin addicts say...........kissing God

..... Ken Bruen's books include Rilke on Black and The Guards

I don't like to resort to self-quotation. But, in this case, I once tried to answer the same question, and said something that I don't think I can say any better now. The article was called 'Writing' and was published in Poetry Review: 'When the writing is going well (I am avoiding the word inspired) it feels as if someone has taken my brain out and filled my head with a very cheap and chemical-heavy soft drink – orangeade or cherryade; I call it this state "headfizz". The bubbly liquid being shaken up behind my eyes is brightly-coloured, almost day-glo (this brightness is the manifestation of a kind of internal embarrassment); I would assume, if at this moment brainscan were to be taken, the synapses would be seen to be getting themselves in something of a lather.' There's another thing I might add. When the writing is going extremely well, I begin to lose interest in it. I feel like walking away from the desk, because the writing would - it seems - continue even if I weren't there. Not to stop feels very silly. If it's this easy, surely it can't be worth doing.

..... Toby Litt's books include deadkidsongs and Journey into Space

When I'm writing good it's like I've disappeared into a movie, time just stops.

..... Willy Vlautin, author of Motel Life and Northline and lead singer with Richmond Fontaine

When it's going well, writing feels like very slowly and incrementally solving an astronomically complex puzzle, with a symbiotic balance between how hard it is and how rewarding it feels to make progress.

..... Christopher Brookmyre's books include Quite Ugly One Morning and Pandemonium

When it's really going well, it doesn't feel like anything at all, because I am completely absorbed in the writing. But far more frequently I find it's not going as well as that and it feels a lot like work.

..... Jonathan Trigell, author of Boy A and Cham

It's very rare for me to feel that writing's going well - I have a hypercritical eye and a melancholic disposition which doesn't lend itself to satisfaction - good writing always seems to be the goal rather them the accomplishment.

However, occasionally, there's a kind of Zen occurrence which is a bit like a dream of flying or running without effort. Then it seems as if everything you see, read, overhear in a bus queue, every song on your iPod, is informing your thinking - you aren't even thinking any more, you're simply open to messages from the ether - and suddenly, briefly, you know what you're doing. It was all there in your own head and all you had to do was get out of your own way.

I wish it would happen right now because I can't seem to describe the experience without sounding like a root vegetable.

..... Liza Cody's books include Monkey Wrench and Gimme More

It feels like the opening to Toots and the Maytals "54-46 Was My Number"

..... Ray Banks's books include Saturday's Child and Beast of Burden

It feels like runner's high times a ten--a relaxed, euphoric, optimistic state that no drug I've tried can reproduce.

..... Jason Starr's books include Fake I.D and Panic Attack

It feels like I'm watching someone else's movie, complete with soundtrack and cinematography. Most of the time I have an idea of the next scene already in my head the day before, or sometimes I carry it around a week or longer, but when I sit down to actually write it I see it more clearly than I had previously--the difference between storyboards, script pages, and the final real deal on film. I learn how to write that scene, figuring out what in my original vision works and what doesn't, by visualizing.

..... Anthony Neil Smith's books include Psychosomatic and Hogdoggin'

One student I was teaching said: "It's the best feeling in the world!" quickly adding; "Not counting sex of course!" But he's not wrong. How can it be anything else when you play God all day? Not some fakey Christian vengeful God, but you know... God-God? Sometimes people ask me what I've been up to. I usually say: "Oh, you know -- deciding who lives, who dies." But that's more or less it. How can you not love it? It sure beats real life, or whatever they call that thing that lurks outside the front door.

Of course, as the postcard on my wall says in big letters: "Other People Ruin Everything". And that couldn't be truer than for the tortured world of the screenwriter. (But let's not get into what it feels like when it isn't going well... that's a whole 'nother question!)

My favourite part is typing "THE END" and feeling that there is something there, a story, a script, an entity, a thing, which (good, bad or indifferent) didn't exist before. And guess what? It came out of my head. All of it. I like best of all the secrecy and privacy of noodling an idea, as Salvador Dali rolled a rock round inside his mouth, to feel the pleasure when he took it out.

At best, writing is like channelling. I always thought it was bollocks, that thing about characters demanding what they wanted to do, resisting the direction you wanted to push them: but I have to admit it's true, even for a control freak planner and outliner like me, and that can be thrilling; buzzing on too much coffee late at night, beyond tired, beyond the deadline, way beyond the deadline, when the spooks come out and tap your shoulder and the best ideas ping in from the ether or the id... wherever it is, I bow to it because those ones are worth the wait and they don't feel they're from you but that doesn't mean they aren't from you; just that you feel that. And that feels good. (Even if it is bollocks.)

Finally, and many writers will agree with this... the hardest thing to learn is getting out of the way and letting the story happen. And when you feel it has, not because you forged it with hammer and anvil, bleeding and sweating, but it was already there, waiting... that's like lightning in a bottle. Rare. Precious. Illuminating. And not a little weird.

..... Steve Volk, screenwriter (Gothic, Ghostwatch, Afterlife) and author of the short story collection Dark Corners

It feels like I've tapped something in my head and am suddenly peering into a part I didn't know was there---words, pictures I barely recognize. It doesn't happen much, but when it does, well, it's the best thing. It's like dreaming someone else's dream.

..... Megan Abbott's books include The Song is You and Queenpin

When writing's going well for me, it's equal parts exhaustion and exhilaration; it's utter fun; it makes cocaine seem like aspirin (that's glib, I know, but it's true). It makes you feel that you might not be a complete gobshite after all. That your birth has a purpose. That you're the first to set foot on a wonderful and mysterious island full of dangerous but beautiful animals an women and cataracts made of wine.

..... Niall Griffiths' books include Kelly and Victor and Runt

I don't think writing ever goes well. Or hardly ever. It only goes different degrees of badly. And on those extremely rare occasions that it does go well, it feels terrifying and vertiginous, because previous experience tells me I'm either deceiving myself or drunk or, most likely, deceiving myself because drunk. I'm afraid I regard writing in much the same way I think of going for a run or to church - really hard to make the effort to start, fundamentally depressing during ... but I do get a rush when I come out the other side knowing that I've in some way exercised my soul.

..... Patrick Neate's books include Twelve Bar Blues and Jerusalem

I honestly can't remember.

..... Allan Guthrie's books include Kiss Her Goodbye and Slammer

When the writing is going well it feels like I'm passing a kidney stone the size and shape of a spiked mace. When it's not going well, it's worse.

..... Tom Piccirilli's books include A Choir of Ill Children and Shadow Season

For me it's a bit like one of those cgi animations of DNA strands or other biological components locking together, very colourful textured shapes joining up with other shapes in space. It's hyperdimensional and the shapes have vibrations and temperature and so on, and I'm manipulating this environment. The shapes are ideas, obviously. It's part of the synaesthetic thing that I have, and it's a trip. Physically it's a bit like a tornado blowing through the room, and my eyes are absolutely pinned open.

..... Steve Aylett's books include Slaughtermatic and Lint

I wish I could remember. If I think back and try to block out all distracting thoughts, I'm getting a taste of freedom, a sense of exhilaration, empowerment, fun.

..... Nicholas Royle's books include The Matter of the Heart and Antwerp

Thomas Mann wrote A writer is a man for whom writing is more difficult than it is for others. Without wanting to sound precious, writing is something I find difficult. Every day at my desk is a challenge, a potential uphill trek in cement boots and a suit of 15th century armour.

A good day, for me, is one where I find a shortcut around the hill. In other words, when I actually get quite a bit done and I’m pleased with it. It’s a good feeling. A wave of benevolence spreads over me. I'm nice to people. I actually manage to smile. Of course, it never lasts. Happiness in writing is even more fleeting than it is in life. The shortcut simply leads to another hill. A sharper, steeper one where the ground has been greased and spiked and mined. And, this time, there's no shortcut. You have to go the long, hard way. It's either that or your last day job. My benevolence fizzles out. I morph back into a scowling, gimlet-eyed misanthropist and take my first difficult step ... Fuck happiness! Let's suffer all the way to The End.

..... Nick Stone's books include Mr Clarinet and King of Swords

It feels great, Charlie. I love it when it's going well, and it always goes well if I've planned it properly.

..... Daren King's books include Boxy an Star and Manual

When it's going well, I feel settled and at peace.

..... Sean Black is the author of Lockdown

Like I know what I'm doing. Like not only can I finish this book/story/play, but I may well even be able to manage another one after that. Like not only will they not 'find me out', but there's actually nothing to find out - I can do this. It feels like I imagine it might feel for someone working in wood or stone or marble, who really knows what they're doing, who lets the grain tell them what to do and can find the right places to cut, to hew, to crash, to smooth, without too much thought and as much by sense as by sight, letting the piece guide their hands. It feels great. And in truth, if I let it, it also feels scary, because I know it won't, can't last, and that while it's working I need to really use that time, because there will be another day, another hour, when it simply isn't going well at all, and when it feels as if it may never go well again. It's not often that bad, often it just is, just the job - daily, weekly, monthly, keeping going. Sometimes painful, more often ordinary, and sometimes, every now and then, totally joyous. I don't mind the ordinary - it is my work after all. I try not to mind the other two extremes either.

..... Stella Duffy's books include Calendar Girl and The Room of Lost Things

Boys never talk about their feelings, Charlie, you know that.

..... Daren King's books also include Tom Boler and Jim Giraffe

It's a feeling as if I've moved beyond everyday things and I've somehow found a spot where no one else can go, at least not until I finish, and maybe never in the same way I went there. Its sexual and it's meditative at the same time, it's something that makes you feel as if you transcended reality and that you are existing on another and higher plane of existence. For a while.

..... Joe R. Lansdale's books include Freezer Burn and Vanilla Ride

I am an utterly commonplace man. I lack drive and any ability to lift me much beyond the merely average. I can be cowardly and irritable and isolative and proud. I've never been able to commit to much and tend towards a self-indulgent existential futility. It's a real effort to do things. But. When I write; when it takes off: I'm a fucking god.

..... Paul Meloy is the author of the short story collection Islington Crocodiles

I rarely admit this, but for some reason your abrupt question makes me want
to blurt out the truth: when it is going well, I feel like dancing, and I often
do, alone, like Billy Idol.

..... Jonathan Lethem's books include Motherless Brooklyn and The Fortress of Solitude


Unknown said...

But we want more answers. More, more, More. Make all them writers spill their guts, Charlie!

Charlie Williams said...

You're a hard Frog.

pattinase (abbott) said...

I love Guthrie's answer--he really nailed it.