While talking with my supervisor recently about the topic of not writing, about the fact that I don’t always write, not on a daily basis anyway, he suggested I watch ‘Throw Momma From The Train’, a 1987 black comedy about a writer with writer’s block. The maxim ‘Writers write… always,’ comes from this movie – it’s the advice the would-be novelist Larry Donner tells his colourful array of mature age students, though can’t seem to carry out himself. See below for more information courtesy of that indispensable online encyclopedia known as Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Throw_Momma_from_the_Train
So apart from laughing myself silly watching this absolute gem of a film, it got me thinking about writing (duh), and more specifically, how I write. Sure, I’ve got a plethora of half used journals lying around the place, but the writing I find myself doing in those journals is a kind of non-writing: it is often just a stream of consciousness style, meandering and formless – I just pin thoughts down as they swirl about in my head; I’m just exercising my ‘writing muscle’ as a boxer might punch a punching bag during exercise in the lead up to the actual fight. Rarely do I revisit the writing I’ve jotted down in my journal at the beach or on a train. Even rarer do I revisit it with the goal of typing it up and turning it into something more substantial.
This kind of writing really is just ‘warming up’ to my mind, a pleasant kind of limbering and stretching and loosening of ideas. It’s good to capture my thoughts on the page in this way and without doubt this type of writing is essential for me. I find myself writing in this way when I’m mulling over something – a bigger, broader idea or issue. Sometimes I feel this kind of writing keeps me sane: it provides a buffer from the world; often I don’t know how I’m feeling or am unaware of the things that have really interested me as I’ve gone about my life until I see the words on the page of my journal.
In saying that, not all of my journal writing while I’m out and about is ‘non-writing’. Sometimes, often after not having written for a while, I have an idea and go about furiously scribbling notes, describing details of thoughts and observations which I feel must be rendered in a story or poem. In these cases, I will write with the intention of using my notes as the skeleton of a project. Sadly, these ideas almost never find their way into a ‘real’ work. They are forever doomed to lie dormant amongst the pages of my umpteen journals sitting idly on my desk.
Until a few weeks ago, I thought that my PhD was also going to die a silent death in amongst the pages of my journals because I only had a couple of half filled journals to show for my trouble. Since early February, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve found myself lying still on my bed staring at the ceiling and the walls, wondering which of the following best describes me:
a) a sucker for punishment
b) a total moron
c) a wannabe writer/intellectual/academic/creative/bohemian
d) all of the above
Usually, my answer has been d) all of the above. Why had I signed on for years of gruelling, painstaking reading and thinking and writing? Yes, I suspected I might be a proper moron for thinking I could actually do something as ‘work involved’ as a PhD: I feared not having the thinking apparatus and know how to pull it off. Yes, I felt like a ‘wannabe’. Yes, I felt like Larry Donner with sticky tape on his nose, looking at his unfinished sentence like an insane pig, only I didn’t even have half a sentence to look at! (See video clip below. Watch till the end. It’s worth it. Trust me.)
What made me get up from my bed and start writing I hear you ask? The breakthrough moment came in the form of a conversation I had with myself. It went a little like this:
Me: So, you are enrolled in this PhD course thing.
Me: Yes I am.
Me: You could drop out. There’s nothing wrong with that you know.
Me: I know. Yes I could do that. I could drop out and there’s nothing wrong with that.
Me: Do you want to drop out?
Me: No. I need to write this book.
Me: Not sure. It’s just something that I know will haunt me forever if I don’t.
Me: Oh. A dilemma.
Me: And there’s the money question. I’m getting paid to do this. Not a small amount either as far as tax free payments go.
Me: You’re right. Drop out and you will lose the scholarship.
Me: I don’t want to drop out and I don’t want to lose my scholarship.
Me: There’s only one thing to do then.
Me: You’re right. I must write.
Me: Write I must!
Me: Thanks Yoda. I’m glad we had this talk.
Write is something writers should do; this is an unequivocal fact. The good news is I don’t have to write always because clearly, that is not how I work. Procrastination aside, fear aside, negative self talk aside, I’ve come to realise that the way I write is more akin to a tornado gathering force, or a water balloon being filled up at the tap. Despite my rumination and feelings that I hadn’t actually ‘started’ my work yet, in fact the opposite was happening – I was neck deep in ‘the process’. My reading and thinking about the strange, elusive topic of bohemianism was all feeding into the ‘tornado’, all of it was slowly but surely filling up the balloon with water; thankfully, there came a time when I couldn’t take the pressure any longer and one day the tornado touched down – the balloon popped: out came lovely, luscious words onto the page and I now have officially started writing my PhD!
But wait, there’s more! Here I was thinking I was just writing up my notes, only starting to get organised in a real way, only just getting in to the boxing ring so to speak by writing about my research, reflecting on my reading and how it connects with the story I have in mind, when Nigel suggested I continue writing just as I have been doing. It makes sense because the haphazard, even organic way my reflections are coming out on to the page reflects the overall topic: bohemianism. It’s a very experimental and mysterious entity which is being revealed to me as I write. And it’s very exciting because of the unknown element in this writing process.
Prior to showing Nigel my writing to date, I had thought I would subsequently take my ‘notes’ and push them into a postmodern novel form – I’d envisaged prose/narrative/fiction interspersed with footnotes which outline the theory/thesis at the bottom of the page. But it’s a bit ‘pomo’ says Nigel, and I agree wholeheartedly! What a chore it would have been to have to squeeze what came naturally into a predetermined structure. Funnily enough this is exactly what bohemianism is all about. And here I will leave you dear blog and blog readers with a photo of Welsh artist Nina Hamnett and a screen shot of her on Pinterest. Enjoy x: