Saturday, August 09, 2008

Writing is Like Shepherding Smoke – Revisited

Emunctory's comment this week about being a 'nerd herder' prompted me to hunt up an old post I'd written nearly four years ago when I first started blogging. Reading back over that old post, I was quite pleased with it and decided to 'repost' it.

For a while now I've been thinking of going over some of my old posts and republishing them. Admitedly, I'm hoping I can get a few more responses and reactions from readers now than I did then
– or just getting people to read it in the first place (I had no readers when I first started blogging back then…). A bit of a retrospective, I guess, though I hope you don't think this premature, or arrogant.

This was inspired by Tim at Sterne dusting off some of his old blog posts and reposting them in the hopes of giving them a new audience. (Thanks, Tim.) Bear in mind that four years since I wrote this post, I've got a second child, moved house, and got a new job, and have been blogging and writing for four years more, so things are different. And yet amazingly still the same. I hope this sparks something.


It's Like Shepherding Smoke

I have an old newspaper cutting that haunts me. It’s an article by American writer Walter Mosley, pinned to the corkboard on the wall next to my computer. He says:

“If you want to be a writer, you have to write every day. The consistency, the monotony, the certainty, all vagaries and passions are covered by this daily reoccurrence.” Bugger. I have enough trouble scraping together the time, energy or determination to sit down and write each week, without the added guilt that I’m not doing it each and every day!! Do I really want the additional burden of feeling I’m more of a failure because I don’t write every day, as so many writers, writing teachers and writing books insist? No thanks.

I think it’s fine for writers who like to get up at 5 am and write before they go to work, but I like my sleep, and its enough of a battle to haul myself out of bed and get coffee in my veins, breakfast down my son’s throat and water down my back each morning.

After a long day trying to stop myself from quitting my job, picking-up enough pieces of my self-dignity, or trying to leave my simmering anger at the front door and not bring it into my home to infect my family (not successfully often enough), the last thing I’m thinking of is writing for my self. I find it difficult to summon the enthusiasm and creativity to face the computer or a piece of paper to give my thoughts, ideas and emotions shapes through words.

I prefer the contemplative act of peeling ginger and cutting up vegetables, as I prepare dinner for the family, to worrying about whether my ideas are worth anything or what words to use. And you can’t eat words.

But the ideas churn away. Sometimes in my forethoughts, other times at the back of my mind, they settle into the friendly rhythm of washing, peeling and cutting vegetables. Cooking is strangely contemplative, like when Buddhist monks click through their rosary beads as they meditate on the wheel of life, or when the older women of the Catholic church bend over their rosaries as their words meld into a droning contemplation of their sorrows and hopes.

However much I resent them, Mosley’s words haunt me because they ring true. He warns writers that the very nature of writing is like shepherding smoke: you get your initial ideas down in words, but when you return to them later they have lost their resonance and life, their taste and sense; you wonder why you were so excited about them when you first wrote them. Mosley insists that writers must return over and over again to bring together those “flimsy vapours” and to “brush them, reshape them, breathe into them and gather more.”

This resonates with me because the dozen or more ideas for this blog have dissipated, and now remain elusive, because I hadn’t written them down straight away, or tended them like the fragile ideas and memories they are. Time passes and each day is another I don’t get my ideas on these pages. If I don’t do this to share with others, then I need to just for me. If only to learn Mosley’s lesson of attending to my ideas each day, because “reality will begin to scatter your notions; given two days, it will drive them off.”

But not ever day. There’s dinner to cook, laundry to fold, a child to read to, scraped knees to tend to, arguments to resolve, there was something on TV to catch …

First published Friday, September 24, 2004

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At August 09, 2008 4:40 pm, Blogger Tim said...

All true, so very true.

At August 11, 2008 11:14 am, Blogger unique_stephen said...

I just dont think that I have the disaplin or writing skills to be a writer. I'd give stand up a go - I think that I am a good story teller, but not all that good at writing.

At August 17, 2008 10:00 am, Blogger Kirsty said...

I'm glad you decided to repost this Mark. You probably know that it resonates with all my angst about writing that's going on at my own blog. If I can add the metaphor, sometimes I feel writing's like shepherding smoke while a freezing gusty wind is blowing.

At August 22, 2008 11:42 am, Anonymous barvasfiend said...

Very true. I find it's best to not worry about it though - like a sore, it only gets worse if you pick at it

At August 22, 2008 11:56 am, Blogger Mark Lawrence said...

kirsty, I know what you're saying. And my added problem is that I haven't learned to shut the window! Then again, maybe blogging is the drought-stopper...

barvasfiend: Aah, but like a good scab at just the right time, picking at it can be sublime. As long as you don't go too far and draw blood again.

stephen, you are one of the best story tellers I know. I regularly aim to write as succinctly and tightly as you do. But fail.

You probably would have done a post similar to my hospital emergency one in about one or two paragraphs. Or lines. And we would all get the story...

But at least we all keep going. That's what this blogging thing is about, isn't it?


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