Tuesday, November 04, 2014

To create, you must first create space

The big band in which I play trumpet has had a steady first-Monday-of-every-month gig for the past 10 years. (That in itself is a spectacular achievement!) Last night was no exception to the rule. We played well and you all should have been there. Plan to do better next month, okay?

But that’s not what this post is about.

I had a chance conversation with someone I don’t know. The leader of the band mentioned to the club patrons that I have a new novel out and suggested they all buy it (wouldn’t that be nice?), and on coming off the bandstand after that particular set, someone came up to ask about the novel.

I gave my usual spiel plus some added details about my musical life and credentials and we had a nice chat. Obviously someone who doesn’t read a great deal, he then asked a question that I’ve been pondering ever since: “Isn’t it tough being alone so much in order to do your writing?”

I was going to answer, but then I stopped for a moment. I’ve never found being alone and surrounded by silence to do some creating (whether musical or literary doesn’t matter) to be anything but a blessing. Solitude for me is always welcome.

I have a leg up on a lot of artistic creators (how’s that for a phrase?) since I used to teach instrumental music to middle school students, band instruments to be precise, or as one of my witty confreres used to call it “crowd control with a beat”. If needs must, I can dredge up enough concentration to write in the middle of a rock concert or a riot (sometimes they combine these things). It’s not my ideal venue, but I can manage it.

Real pleasure, though, and definitely an aid to creating anything artistic is solitude. Sitting on the porch of a cabin, an ideal vista before me, a comfortable chair, something (non-alcoholic) to drink by my hand (but not too close since I tend to wave my arms around a bit when I’m conversing with my current crop of invisible friends) and I’m in heaven. An appreciable bit of my novels has been written in just such a place which, incidentally, appears in The Fallen One as Marta Hendricks’ eastern Ontario farm property (and it is indeed in the place the book describes – I’m just not going to reveal exactly where). It’s amazing how my creative brain, after maybe a day of getting into gear in a setting such as this, goes into hyperdrive. I can produce a 10- to 12-page chapter per day. At home, with all the interruptions that come with being there, I’m lucky if I can struggle through to 5 or 6 pages.

It’s the same with music. I do a fair bit of arranging, mostly for the soul band I’m putting together (more on that in a future blog), and I find the same necessity. Sometimes I’m forced to work with one of my wife’s flute lessons going on in the next room, and if I throw on headphones to cut down the noise a bit, I can still manage to write competing notes of my own and come up with something useable, but it adds a huge mental strain to the act of creation. To really accomplish a decent amount of good work, I need silence.

Aline spoke yesterday about finally clearing away the mental “character-clutter” upon the departure of her new manuscript to her publisher. This is something we writers know only too well. You have all this stuff loaded into your mental RAM and it’s hard to get it shut down and cleared out. (And sending a novel off without a clear title is a very brave decision, dear. That would drive me crazy!)

But that mental clutter (admittedly not a great word for it) is necessary to create. Your story must be present in your head (consciously and unconsciously) for creation to take place. It just tends to make a mess of your mental living room.

It’s not news if you’ve been reading my posts all these years on Type M to know that I struggle with this. I cannot afford to just write. My writerly income is nowhere near adequate for that luxury. My writing time comes in fits and starts. It’s a fact of life. But I think I can do better to optimize the space in which I create. Go upstairs and shut the bedroom door. Go to the local library. Hell, even sitting out in the car in the driveway might do the trick.

My question to you is this: can you create in a maelstrom, or do you need quiet with no interruptions in order to work, be you a wordsmith, a composer, a playwright, or whatever?

6 comments:

Vicki Delany said...

I need total quiet and no distractions. I know I am terribly spoiled because I can have that.

Rick Blechta said...

I suppose I could lock myself in a closet or hide in the basement...

Sybil Johnson said...

I generally need it quiet. Wish I could write under any conditions, though.

Rick Blechta said...

I think it's a learned thing. I can write in noisy environments because I spent 24 years in a noisy environment (teaching band and orchestra). You sort of become "immune" to it after awhile.

Eileen Goudge said...

I wrote my first novels in the kitchen with little kids at my feet. So I learned early to tune out distractions. Now that I'm older and my kids grown, I prefer total silence and an absence of distractions. I go away for weeks at a time to a house on a lake in an isolated area. I feel I've earned it.

Rick Blechta said...

My dream is to write a novel set in some foreign locale (like Roses for a Diva which is partially set in Rome and Venice) and actually stay there to write the book in situ. That would be heavenly. I've also set novels in Paris and Vienna, and it would have been quite wonderful to live in either of those cities for the time it took to write the first drafts -- at the very least. Hey, if I'm dreaming, why not go whole hog, right?

Hear that everyone? Buy more Blechta novels so I can live my dream!!

;)