A tale, fictitious or otherwise, illuminates truth. Jalaluddin Rumi
Reading is fundamental to living in our society, to meeting the demands of everyday life and to discovering the magic contained within books. Yet in this increasingly fast paced, hi-tech society we run the risk of losing that magic. We have become impatient, finding ourselves drawn to abbreviations rather than elaborations. Facebook and twitter reduce our news to paragraphs and sentences respectively, micro-fiction is blossoming, the pace of our stories is increasing, as is the speed with which they are delivered, until there is little time for contemplation, for pausing over a beautiful passage in a story, for allowing stories to seep into us and change us from within. And yet stories are vital. More than mere entertainment, they tell us who we are and they help us to find ourselves.
As Ralph Waldo Emmerson once said, ‘I cannot remember the books I’ve read any more than the meals I have eaten; even so, they have made me.’ Each of us is the product of the stories we tell ourselves, the stories our culture, our society, our family, our friends, our teachers, our filmmakers and our authors tell us. Story is what forms our identity and our opinions. But stories can do something else too. They can be truly revolutionary. When we read heroic myths, or novels which tell of the coming of age of a character, then we find that these stories can also help to free us from an identity that has been constructed by others and to see through the ideology in which we are immersed. Reading can and should help us to learn how to live as individuals within society, by encouraging us to reach inwards and explore ourselves and showing us how to reach out and connect with others. Continue reading →
The first draft is just you telling yourself the story.
While editing is not a particularly inspirational topic, it is no doubt a useful one. It is also a topic that is on my mind as I recently completed a first draft of my novel and am about to embark on the long process of editing.
Lots of people despise editing, some fear it, others enjoy it. I belong to the ‘enjoy it’ camp. Editing is part of the creative process but there is less uncertainty involved. It’s safer because the outcomes are already known, though inevitably with the safety comes a reduction in the magical process that unfolds in the first draft as we find our story. The roller coaster ride of the first draft becomes a merry-go-round in the second draft and I find this a welcome chance to catch my breath after all the excitement.
When I am writing a first draft, I politely ask my Editing Self to leave the room because it inhibits the writing process by undermining my confidence and forcing me to stop and start as I check for imperfections. My Editing Self requires me to question too early the value of a scene rather than trust that it is there for a reason. And it insists that I get caught up in the intricacies of vocabulary and sentence structure instead of concentrating on the broader sweep of theme and story and character. For me the writing process is predominantly intuitive and I follow my nose, allowing one scene to dictate the next, one character’s actions and reactions to lead the plot and a theme to emerge and then weave its way through the story I discover along the way. Continue reading →
“An idea, like a ghost, must be spoken to a little before it will explain itself.”
The ideas that come to each of us do so for three reasons. Firstly, we are listening. Philip Pullman said, ‘I don’t know where my ideas come from, but I know where they come to. They come to my desk, and if I’m not there, they go away again.’ My ideas are rarely this polite. Instead they arrive at their own convenience, demanding to be heard and threatening to leave if they are ignored or treated badly. So if we are to capture ideas we must be there, waiting to receive them with gratitude and accept the responsibility for their maturation.
Secondly, we are the one person who can bring that particular idea to fruition at that particular time. In his book, Dreamgates, Robert Moss tells us that according to the Australian Aborigines, ‘the big stories—the stories worth telling and retelling, the ones in which you may find the meaning of your life—are forever stalking the right teller, sniffing and tracking like predators hunting their prey in the bush.’ Each of us has a unique combination of experience and skills, of themes that resonate within us and dreams that draw us onwards and inwards. The ideas that come to us do so because somewhere in the fusion of all that makes up our selves, lies the possibility of creating something harmonious that speaks beyond our limitations. A big story. Continue reading →
‘We are called upon to do something new, to confront a no man’s land, to push into a forest where there are no well-worn paths and from which no one has returned to guide us. This is what the existentialists call the anxiety of nothingness. To live into the future means to leap into the unknown, and this requires a degree of courage for which there is no immediate precedent and which few people realize.’
The Courage to Create is not a new book but it is most certainly an extraordinary one. It was first published in 1975 though some of the chapters were developed from lectures given up to twenty years earlier. Rollo May, who died in 1994, was an American existential psychotherapist and an author of a number of books, such as Man’s Search for Himself and The Cry for Myth. In the prologue to The Courage to Create, May mentions his initial reluctance to publish this collection of lectures because they felt to him, incomplete. When he finally agreed to publish them it was because he realized that ‘this ‘unfinished’ quality is ‘part of the creative process itself’.
In this far ranging exploration of creativity, May identifies courage as the most essential ingredient of the creative act. What is courage? he asks in the title chapter. He then goes on to explore what it is not in order to bring our focus towards what it might be. No, it is not the opposite of despair nor the absence of despair but rather ‘the capacity to move ahead in spite of despair’. Courage, he says, ‘requires centeredness within our own being’. It is not rashness or bravado and neither is it a virtue or a personal value, but rather it is ‘the foundation that underlies and gives reality to all other virtues and personal values.’ May goes on to explain that the ‘word courage comes from the same stem as the French word coeur, meaning heart’. Continue reading →