Tuesday, May 29, 2012
The Art of Writing No. 45
Taking up the theme from blog 44, Iâ€™d like to enlarge upon this notion of the ego of the writer â€“ or my own ego in particular! Having been a professor in my last but one incarnation (teacher, social worker, PhD student, researcher, chair in management research and management consultant) I probably have a different take on the process of exploring the mechanics and conceptual subtleties of writing novels than most. I was reasonably successful in those roles even if none of them gave me the ultimate sense of ego-value I probably desired. I always wanted to be a writer. Indeed this ambition saw me as a bit of a marginal academic in that I never really played the academic game; building networks, kowtowing to the bureaucrats and chasing the journals. I did publish a great deal but was more concerned with readability than aridity. What I am sure I was good at was generating research reports that had impact and supervising students to complete better than average PhDs. The quality of my writing was not the real issue here, it was a capacity and motivation to understand the processes that underpin social behaviour, whatever that might be, such as childrenâ€™s experience with computer games, information handling in classrooms or the effects of appraisal of doctors on their medical practice. I had developed a style of critical discourse involving all those with whom I worked which meant that openness, frankness and fairness dictated how we approached everything we did. There was no room here for lily-livered sensitivities about personal expression. Everything could be contested for how else could anything be improved?
So when it came to writing up PhDs and research reports and the occasional book there was much dissection and self-analysis.
Now, at an age when it is unusual to think in terms of beginning a new career (fiction) I am honour bound to continue in the critical vein that I had established long before. I have written what I consider to be a significant contribution to literature (Azimuth) and also some titles which are less profound, more ephemeral but with elements that make them worthy of a readerâ€™s attention. All of them can be found at the website listed at the end of this piece.
So these blogs are part of an introspective discourse on the processes of writing. I write therefore I am and because I am who I am I want to understand what is making me! What is this mysterious process, this alchemy which has me pouring myself on to the page. There is a very nice Buddhist story, probably in Zen Flesh Zen Bones by Paul Reps, concerning a caterpillar or millipede being asked by a passing insect how it managed all its legs so wonderfully well. The multi-legged wonder considered this question for a moment and immediately toppled over. Many people believe that by being self-analytical we destroy the subtle processes which make our work what it is. I supervised a sculptor who felt this way. He made great steel installations for public spaces. He also wanted to do an MPhil so he could teach in an art school. By using stop frame photography and writing about what each frame represented in the process of his creation he changed his fundamental relationship with his work. What had been an opaque and magical process was now articulated in his mind. It lifted his work to a new level. The intellectual and the creative could walk hand in hand.
So, back to ego. I am not on a trajectory to prove what a great writer I may be but to be as honest as possible about what for me writing fiction involves.