The creative process?

I’m having a strange experience. Yesterday I finally gave myself permission to play with the novel I started writing in March – and haven’t touched since April. I love this phase, when ideas are in free play with no worries about the end product.

I have two scenes in Paris in 1947 and 1958 and I can hear Edith Piaf’s Milord playing in the background. There is an office in modern London and a house in Highbury, some digs in wartime (WWII) Oxford, a scene somewhere in America (seriously vague that), a musical mishap in Moscow with comic overtones. Some drafts are in the first person, some third, some in the present tense some in the past.

In the past I have started with a structure, like the armature of a sculpture, and let the story grow up and around this frame. This new story has a single central figure with plotlines radiating outwards, particularly into the past. I don’t at present see how it will ever shape into a continuous narrative.

Ideas for this book go back several years, and I have been disconcerted to find at least five different opening pages, several vague and/or contradictory plot outlines, some pages of character studies and dozens of unlikely names. There are four people alive and active in one or more of these scenes, but how the two from the earlier period interact with the more recent ones is still mostly opaque to me.

This is an octopus and I really don’t know which arm to investigate first. Actually, it’s more like a piece of knitting, with sections of sleeve or cuff half knitted on different size needles in different colours with different weights of wool.

Since I have created this chaos I should be able to sort out the strands and turn them into a serviceable rope. Hmm. In the meantime, I shall keep on playing Milord.

3 thoughts on “The creative process?

  1. My art teachers of decades ago, John Olsen, Robert Klippel and Colin Lanceley, never taught us a thing of practical value. ‘Just muddle on and do your own thing’, was the best they could come up with and they would just go to the pub during the lesson. All three ended up very well known and one would be lucky to get a painting or sculpture that would leave you with much change from $100.000.-.

    Perhaps it proves that those that can’t teach do creative art, or was it the reverse? I do believe though that having too much of a pre-conceived idea might kill the ‘creative’ part. Reading biographies especially the auto-biography, one sooner or later comes to this sentence; I did my best work when I hardly knew what I was doing!

    I have always believed that. I don’t paint or do etchings anymore. The storage became a problem and words are coming just as spontaneously as my paintings did previously. Of course, recognition/fame has eluded me but that hasn’t taken away my pleasure of practising putting down words. It might be though, that my theory of ‘letting go’ is no fool proof method of creativity as having a solid idea beforehand.

    It is however hugely personal.
    I do hope you will pick up the strands Hillary. I am sure it will come out well. I too like Edith Piaf.

  2. The only way forward I can think of is to relax and have a bad time.
    I have a similar dilemma and see no way forward.
    I have characters, one in particular, but only the vaguest idea of plot.
    For me, this is a new experience.

  3. Thank you Gerard and Rod for comforting advice. I do know from past experience, both working as a sculptor or devising a psychological experiment, that an unlikely mixture of sniffing like a terrier at a hole ready to catch anything that appears and simultaneously keeping all the balls spinning in the air, while being distracted by a bird flying *eventually* shows you the path forward. I think that’s enough metaphors for today.

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