|Go with the flow?|
Writers seem to occupy that curious hinterland between the potential and the actual. We create characters and give them life on the page, and worlds to roam, in the hope that someday other people will visit them to read about their adventures and dilemmas. It’s not a given though and for every book that’s out there – whether or not it’s doing well – you can get your last sixpence that a whole shelf’s worth of books never saw the light of day for one reason or another.
It’s arguably a huge leap of faith to start that first sentence and then progress to the end. And that’s before the baying hounds of commercial reality and the critics come a-calling.
There is also a deeper, dare I say it, spiritual side to writing.
I was in a yoga class for the last couple of weeks (don’t too impressed – I have the hip and shoulder flexibility of hardened asphalt) and our teacher, Indra, said something that really struck a chord. He talked about what yoga is and that the physical postures were only an aspect of good practice, to be combined with the breath and awareness. Otherwise, he said, you’re just making shapes.
Later, at home with a hot chocolate and biscuits (what better reward for a yogic workout?) I thought about how that approach might apply to writing. Like yoga, writing can be a process of development – and by that I mean development for life. Writers can create good prose, craft cunning plot lines and sculpt characters that live on long after the book is closed. That’s all great and worthy of a book sale. However, the deeper side of writing, extolled and examined in books like The Artist’s Way, is that we get to grips with ourselves.
Some of that introspection and reflection will find its way on to the page, but whether it does or not we grow as a consequence. Now, I know that self-actualisation and the cult of the self is often frowned upon as navel gazing. (My brother used to say I wanted to find myself and maybe I should try one of the cupboards.)
Writing’s all about the words, isn’t it? I’m not so sure.
In yoga, the breakthroughs I’ve had have been small insights or tiny physical adjustments that teach me something about myself (and not always something good!). Writing offers the same rewards. It can be therapeutic, challenging and bring out our insecurities, competitiveness, focus and compassion.
When you strip back all the tools and techniques, all the clever strategies and the yardsticks that we measure ourselves by – and beat ourselves up with – we are simply in a class of one. We don’t even have to learn if we don’t want to. But if we dig deep, beyond the stories that are easiest and safest to tell, we may just find some treasure to share with our readers.