Monday, May 16, 2011

Rick blogged last week about the creative process, and what you do when the Muse simply won't obediently appear when you sit down at the desk. At the same time there was an article in one of the British newspapers about creative writing courses and degrees, wondering if good writing could really be taught, or if it was simply a talent or an instinct that you either have or don't have.

It was all very relevant to me because I've been asked again to do a crime-writing writers' workshop at the Edinburgh International Book Festival. It's a fantastic event, which started in 1983 with 30 events, and last year had over 200. Charlotte Square, in the elegant heart of Edinburgh's Georgian New Town where it takes place, was once a private garden but now hosts a little tented village for three weeks in August where the great writing names from all over the world gather and almost aquarter of a million people come to hear them speak, and picnic on the grass where once the nannies in starched uniforms from the smart town houses round about would have wheeled their charges in coach-built perambulators for their daily outing. The authors' yurt, a Mongolian-style hospitality tent carpeted with oriental rugs, is famous world-wide. The atmosphere is wonderful, whether there is sunshine and ice-cream, like last year, or rain and a family of plastic ducks floating where a deep puddle had gathered like the year before.

I always wonder, when I'm doing a workshop, what people expect from it. If any of you would like to tell me what you would want, I'd really appreciate it. I always get good responses when I ask afterwards, but then I suspect people are too polite to tell me if they're disappointed.

No one ever explains how to run one, and I can remember the first one I did, some years ago. I think I saw it as being almost like a school class – once a schoolmarm, always a schoolmarm! – and the ninety minutes seemed to take forever to pass. Last year, though, I couldn't believe it was time to stop when we all still had so much to say. It's a group of about thirty usually, and I've given up asking them to write something and then read it out. There isn't time for constructive analysis and anything other than encouraging comment can seem brutal in that context.

Now I try to make it a two-way process. They tell me their writing problems and, if I can I pass on techniques I've found useful in coping with them – or, alternatively, I say, 'Yup – me too,' and all I can do is sympathise. I can't tell them how to write, or what to write, and I do try to disillusion the ones who say wistfully, 'It must be lovely to write a book', because it isn't; it’s incredibly hard work, and lonely work too, there in your study with your computer, and after you've spent a year or more doing this, the agonising bit starts as you try to get published. I always quote the classic 'Advice to those about to .marry – don't!' and apply it to writing – with the tailpiece, 'Unless you absolutely have to.'

But there are still good, serious writers, looking for ways to make their work publishable in today's competitive world, and I've come to the conclusion that my job is to share with them what I've learned through long and sometimes painful experience about what works, and even more importantly what doesn't, and any techniques and tips I've found useful.

For instance, when the Muse doesn't obligingly appear, I've found that if I sit down anyway, and just write and write, and sooner or later it's as if she sighs, then says, 'Oh, for goodness sake! Let me do that,' elbowing me aside ( I seem to have a rather bossy Muse – can't think why) and after that it's all right. Even if I do have to throw away the rubbish I wrote before!


Rick Blechta said...

Wise words, Aline. Thanks.

H. L. Banks said...

Thanks for your wonderful post. I took your words to heart and it worked. I was 'stuck' but I persisted and got over the hump. Shall keep your post in mind when I face the next one. Thanks.