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Smoking with Camus

In Process on May 18, 2009 at 9:31 pm

How do you write?
Writers are often asked about why they write, but often I find myself more interested in how they write.

By ‘writer’, I mean a person who writes quite simply because they have to. They write because it’s a part of how they interact with the world. It’s as much a part of them as their freckles or perversions; it’s what they do.

I had a solitary childhood. I had to make things up just to be. A lot of these imaginings stayed in my head, but inevitably some of them began to spew out. In word images, as rebus trickles across the page like bird footprints in soot. One of the things I loved to do was to write stories using pictures in place of words.
An eye for an I.
Very soon I was curious about the writers I read. Curious in a situationist way. Curious about the room they sat in, the pen they used, their surroundings and the state of their mind. When I was ten years old, I wondered whether Lewis Carroll stared at a chess board as he wrote, palm rolling the Queen while he contemplated grown-up Alice’s moves. Or if Arthur Ransome rowed and wrote. Stories lapping in his mind. When I was twelve, I wondered if Harper Lee wrote in pencil or in ink, whether she sky-stared or scowled in silence at white pages. As I got older, as I read wider, I would love to have been a fly on the wall in a smoky room with Camus, a dog at the feet of Dickens.
To watch them as they wrote. To watch them like a voyeur. I would like to have seen them, hunched or stiff backed, sprawled or frenetic. The shape they made while they wrote. Curlicue or precipitous. And I wonder, does a room of one’s own produce contained, argued prose? Is solitude a prerequisite for creativity?
Picture me now.
I am sitting, ankles crossed, back straight on a high folding chair behind a small white wooden counter. It is littered with books, an old 1940’s film reel of the digestive system in a round flat tin, a mobile phone, a hair clip, two AA batteries, a camera, a pair of scissors, a pencil and a biro. Intermittently I suck coffee from a take-out cup, and as such remind myself of a feeding baby suckling warm milk. The books, in no particular order, are; A History of Phallic Worship, Kanga Creek, The Mind of Japan, Myth of the Magus and the Life and Explorations of Fridtjof Nansen. I don’t intend to read them; they are books I hope to sell. I am typing this on a battered laptop whose speakers haven’t worked since I spilt wine over the keyboard three years ago. I have to keep stopping writing in order to talk to customers who are coming in and out of the shop. Sadly they are not real customers, as I have yet to sell anything. It is a sunny Thursday afternoon, the air outside is cold, and even though I’m inside I am still wearing a long stripy woollen scarf. Between typing words and hearing sentences form in my mind, I lean back and put a sweater covered hand onto the radiator and enjoy the warm spread. I am listening to music in a background sort of way. Really, I prefer to listen to music in a foreground sort of way – just me and the music, nothing else.  The song I’m listening to has an introduction that reminds me of an old black and white film where the heroine is tied to a train track and mistily reflects on the vagaries of her life so far. If I had to choose between written words or played music it would be a hard choice. I imagine a huge medieval style battle. In full sunshine the strings and sweet girls voices would charge against thickset armoured words like BUT and NEVER, they’d harry resplendent and necessary words strung out like flags, radiant and sublime in their particular order. I can love them both, words and music, filling my head, thick on my tongue, gentle over my body, but eventually, after much screaming and shouting, words would win. Every time.
I think this is a collected piece of writing.
I am neither emotionally high or low today. I feel measured, which is something for me. Normally I write when I am unmeasured. Because writing is what I do to get my balance back. Legs akimbo, middle of a see-saw. To be rid of something. To preserve some thing. Either way I’d be lost without it.
I am enjoying watching the people come and go; their differences seem to be greater than their similarities. Often I watch other people as if they are alien to me, and I find this strangely comforting. Other times I look at a person and I think to myself, I  (eye) could be you (ewe).
There are many times when I write like breathing, gulping down vast quantities of words in an outpouring which feels like release, a bloodletting, an expiration. But today is not one of those times. Today I feel contained. Boxed and tucked up, safe inside myself. I wouldn’t want to feel like this all the time.
But today it’s just fine for this type of writing.
And so, I’m wondering, how do you write?

Isabelle finds writing in the third person both liberating and horrific. It reminds her of a ball of string, unravelling uncontrollably like an omnipotent thread coiling out into an unstoppable universe. In the first person I live by a dark wood and sometimes my favourite thing is feeding the animals.

  1. I love this. I love you. Like smoke curling off Camus’ ciggie.

    I wish my writing thing were more constant or interesting. It could be at work, when no one’s looking, on the tube struggling with the keys on my phone, or anywhere at home with my 5-year old laptop in an awkward position (yes on the toilet too, occasionally). I haven’t written anything longhand in years. Sometimes I worry I’ve forgotten how.

  2. very well written

  3. I agree. And I completely get what you mean when you say that you want to know what other writers do. I think about it all the time. Personally, I still remember longhand, but I prefer typing. It makes for the easiest editing. So, I sit on the armrest side of the couch and huddle with my laptop on a pillow on my lap, and type and type until the heat burns into my thighs. Then I write some more.

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