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Writer’s block…middle class bollocks.

This is part of an interview with Ray Robinson that I found at

http://www.panmacmillan.com/interviews/
(The link won’t work for some reason when I insert it.)

“I have a very blue-collar approach to my work. Writing isn’t some esoteric art; I don’t sit poised, quill in hand every morning, waiting for my monkey muse to throw some peanuts of inspiration at me. Writers block is a lazy-arse middle-class excuse to read the papers or watch Tricia. Writing, like every other art form, is a craft, and all novelists are apprentices because there’s no such thing as the perfect novel. You have to write your balls (or tits) off, all of your life, and you still might be shit at it. But that’s the thing I love about novel writing, as opposed to short stories or poems; it’s that their size, the sheer amount of words they contain, permits imperfection. I can think of a handful poems and short stories that ache with near-perfection (and by perfect I mean that if you removed a single word they would collapse; think Paul Farley; think Raymond Carver), but this simply isn’t the case with a novel – it can carry exiguous or bad writing if the bulk of the narrative is strong enough.

I try to do a nine-to-five, five days a week, and I find it helps if I leave the flat. I like working at the British Library; I find the diligent atmosphere refreshing. This is always difficult because usually I wake up (mentally, creatively) about 10 p.m. I’m preternaturally nocturnal and I rarely switch off. I find everything inspiring, and like some sick, sad pervert, I have to write for life to mean anything. So no, it’s no easy process. It’s a distorted and voyeuristic way of life with no OFF button.”

I think that has made me feel quite cheerful actually.

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10 responses »

  1. thanks, Sara, that makes me feel cheerful too! Hard graft, that’s what it is, not some waiting around for divine inspiration and moaning when it doesn’t arrive. What I was taught is that the more you write the more you’ll write – and that works for me!

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  2. Hey Tania, it struck me as being very sensible and reading it was a little bit of a light bulb over the head moment. Funnily enough I then read a Jodi Picoult interview in which she said something like “You can always edit bad writing, you can’t do anything with a blank page.” She’s not an author I like but she shares the view that it’s putting in the graft that counts.

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  3. i kind of disagree….i think it’s quite arrogant of him to assume that a way of writing that happens to work for him is some sort of objective truth that will apply equally to others…does he mean that someone who works differently is a ‘worse’ writer ?? …for some people writing is extrememly esoteric…is he saying this is a ‘bad’ thing..should it be stamped out?? by him???……and i find making a class issue out of it positively eccentric…i don’t even understand the context in which he uses the expression ‘middle class’here, or what he could possibly mean by it…is he saying ‘working class’ people don’t read papers…or that they don’t watch Tricia??? is he saying these things are the preserve of a ‘middle class’? it’s absolutely unfathomable and doesn’t make any sense under scrutiny……and it’s a very anglocentric view..how does his theory apply in countries that don’t have the perception of a class system ? i think his arrogance is actually revealed when he refers to a couple of writers as ‘perfect’…perfect for who?? if you happen to hate them, what then?? are you imperfect? what he actually means is that he happens to like them and not someone else because he turned left rather than right at the end of the street when he was 10 years old and his life went one way and not another….. it kind of bugs me when people pontificate like this in a ‘you should do this and shouldn’t do that’ fashion…things get written in all kinds of ways by all kinds of people working in an infinite variety of methods, and i don’t think the method dictates their quality, which is, after all a matter of entirely subjective taste.i know people who have become effectively slaves to music…they use it like smack, and their lives are filled from wall to wall with it…and as a result they’ve absolutely no life outside it to write about…he kind of gives it away when he says he has to write for life to mean anything…now that really IS esoteric…….my personal view is that life has to mean something for you to be able to write…i still say : put down the pen, go outdoors and do some sponge like absorbing and some research….or surely everything you write will be an internalised, esoteric experiment in a test tube…..i’d never buy anything that had no OFF button.ma

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  4. Ma, I read it more as a comment that it’s literally a job of work, and that some may waft around playing at writing but that he views it as a 9 to 5 thing, which he works as hard at as he would any other craft ( baking/carpentry etc). I don’t take exception to that, and I do think he has a point that some writers do expect things to just magically be brilliant without gritting teeth and really going at it. (You know that I mean me.)I thought about your comment a lot last night. I thought you had completely changed my mind as I do agree with you in almost all that you state. The whole class issue is lazy, and the notion of a perfect story utterly subjective. Of course writing can be done in many differing ways, mine is squished into the gaps in-between the rest of my life. You know my personal situation doesn’t allow me to dedicate myself entirely to my words, I have other commitments, and yet do think I have written some good things. I imagine I will continue to write good quality fiction. But…I could really do with a bit more of the knuckle down and get on with it attitude, so that I could best utilise the time that I do have. Which is why Mr Robinson’s words struck a chord with me. It actually seemed to offer hope that if I only stopped all the faffy procrastination then I could reach out to the novel that I know without a shadow of a doubt is inside me.Thank you so much for taking the time to comment, it’s very interesting.

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  5. i just get a bit riled about people using ‘middle class’ as a kind of blanket, generic perjorative for anything they don’t happen to like….but i do take your point…he was kind of freewheeling rather than founding a philosophical outlook….and of course sometimes you do need to knuckle down and do the writing/drawing/music equivalent of clearing out the stables…and it’s got to be fab if someone fires you up to that…but you (meaning you personally) don’tever stop writing cause you’re lazy or waiting for god to write it for you, i’m quite sure…..you’ve got some hefty other commitments there!!…and those can be draining even when you’re done with them for the day and you sit down to do some art…it’s actually a luxury of the published and established to have so much time to go at it…(all too often the case!! in fact, i think we should have a swap round…all successful authors to spend a month or so dealing with crazy people in waterstone’s…everyone else : lunch with a rich publisher and a cottage retreat in cornwall…)ma

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  6. Hi SaraI’ve read round the craft of writing now for four years, on and off. I have yet to come across anyone, irrespective of class, who is serious about writing, who does not advocate writing every day. It has to be a discipline. If you’re a writer, that’s what you do… write… even if it’s for half an hour a day.Being realistic, you have to have the space to do that. Space in the sense of somewhere to write peacefully, away from partners and children telling you you should be doing something else…but also space in the economic sense. You have to be able to relax into what you’re doing, not feel constantly… “I ought to be somewhere else…”I’ve just read two slim volumes by Gail Sher, a distillation of her own Zen Buddhist approach to writing, and advice from the great writers (including Virginia Woolf).In the volume entitled “One continuous Mistake” she says this:”The temptation to break your vow (to write) will come at you from every angle. Thoughts such as “What’s to be gained?” “What difference will it make?” “I’m never going to amount to anything as a writer anyway” flood your mind. Wouldn’t it make more sense to just answer the dfoor, answer the phone, get on with the day?In fact, what is there to support NOT getting on with your day? Logic, the world, your partner and family all cry out for your to break your vow to write. It only takes a moment to assure yourself that your vow to write for say 20 minutes a day, is ridiculous….Writers write. If you can’t get to the paper then writing won’t occur….”She also says:”Writing is lonley….You can get advice, support, love, but in the end, no one can turn up at your desk and write… but you.”good stuff.She also has plenty to say on ‘writers block”, if youre interested.lovevanessa

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  7. Hello SaraI just fell into your Blog from elsewhere. It’s an interesting one; hopefully, I can come back.

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  8. i think vanessa really makes such a good case….there’s an aleister crowley-ish focus of mind and intention in what she says…EVERYTHING wants to deter you from your chosen path, with beguiling seductions and plausible alibis for not sticking to it…..and everything tests your will at every turn.i think that, for me, that’s a much more convincing and pertinent way of putting it than the ray robinson piece…..said like that, it sounds compellingly true andutterly convincing…in fact, why am i sat here??? i should be practising…ma

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  9. Hello jan, glad you found something interesting here…thanks for saying so.Vanessa, thank you for your comment and the brilliant quotes too. Funnily enough the more I think about it the more I realise that what happens to me is not writer’s block, by which I mean a big blank nothing to write. My stories always continue in my head, it’s actually putting them down that is the issue. I become frozen, and will do anything not to order the words and type them (or write them). I don’t know what that is, or why.I also know that when you give me a few prompts and a time limit I can always chuck something out. Then again it’s never anything I am happy with. Sigh. I think it may be an idea for me to promise to write for only half an hour a day instead of promising myself several hours worth. If I make a set time and try to stick to it I may become more necessarily disciplined.

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  10. What he says is true and almost self-evident: I doubt if there’s any professional writer who really complains about writer’s block the way he refers to it. So in that sense I think he’s making up a notional ‘other way’ just so that he can have a go at it. As someone once said: “I write when I’m inspired, and I see to it that I’m inspired at 9 o’clock every morning.” I doubt very much than Ian McEwan or Martin Amis or any other ‘middle class’ writer doesn’t also ‘write their balls off’ when they’re working on a book.His comments about class generally do have a really chippy air to them and don’t make me warm to him at all.

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