Saturday, November 22, 2008

About the most originality that any writer can hope to achieve honestly is to steal with good judgment

We're a much depleted Creative Writing class at Västerberg Folkhögskola (check out the beard pic here!) this year. Yesterday we were 14 students and our teacher/mentor, as well as a guest lecturer. Some more people are expected in tomorrow. Two years back we were 30+, and considered splitting the class into two groups for workshopping. So maybe less than 20 is a good number.

As always, the atmosphere here inspires and energizes me, and I get lots of ideas for new stories, or parts of stories. We didn't workshop that much yesterday, so today and Sunday will probably bring more story seeds or at least the opportunity to steal more words and sentences.

Yes, I steal words and sentences. And ideas. See, if someone reads their text I might get caught on a single word or a turn of phrase, and all of a sudden an outline for a story or a character or a place or whatever springs to life in my mind. So I write it down. I always ask before using them though.

I find it interesting that such a wide variety of people are involved with the class. We have writing in common, but apart from that, we're quite a motley crew. The age of participants spans from twenties to I would guess eighties or at least seventies, and there is a scattering of Americans and Germans amongst us Swedes. Occupations vary wildly.

We come together around the act of worship that is writing. Because there is something near-religious about the way many of us approach the written word. For me, it's sometimes a very spiritual experience, when the words seem to have a life of their own, just pouring onto the page. I can't really describe it, that state of near-disconnect, when it's not so much me writing something as just being an outlet, a conduit, for words and worlds.

This approach to writing, the uncontrolled way, is something I can only give in to if I already have something written. I tend to be very structured about writing. If I get an idea I might jot down a phrase or a few words in my phone or on my laptop, and then I usually construct something, an embryo of a story or a short scene, in my head, over days. When I sit down to write, I have at least an idea of where I'm going. Later, once this is down on paper (or in most cases, hard drive), I can do “writing frenzies”, as they are termed within our class, which basically is all about just writing, no matter what comes out. My frenzies, however, are an extension of what I've already written.

So maybe it's not so much about totally relinquishing control as it is about writing uncontrollably but with direction. Sort of. Again, hard to describe.

In many ways I'm still immature as a writer. I think I know what works for me, but I still have a lot to learn. Too bad I didn't start writing seriously sooner...


Jesper Bylund said...

I had my first age crisis when I was turned 20. Because most of the historical masterminds I wanted to be like had achieved at least one of their great works by that time. But sooner or later we have to realize that it really isn't about how much time we put into a skill or a project, it is the quality of work we put in that makes a difference. Just check out Gordon Ramsey, the man became a cook, then a 3 star chef and then a world celebrity in about ten years. Fuck, that means if we work well enough on something, it should be possible for us to become the very best at that skill/project in a couple of years...

It's a soothing thought, no?

beardonaut said...

I haven't hade an age crisis. Yet. I believe it's not an either/or approach. Yes, there has to be a spark there, something to build upon, but unless you're a natural at what you do, and reach those soaring levels of excellence at once, time is needed to refine that gift, sharpen it and focus it.