Creative Happenstance and the Writer’s Eye
As regards writing, finding stories, I do not believe in waiting for the muse, life is out there, stories are everywhere. Creativity often comes about purely by the juxtaposition of material or ideas from two apparently separate spheres of life, helping us to say things anew or with a stronger metaphor. We find in recent years the metaphors of physics appearing in many books, concepts like Schrodinger’s cat and Heisenburg’s uncertainty principle have been appropriated to explain this fragile, increasingly relativist reality of the modern world. Austin Kleon, author of the book Steal like an Artist presents a view that creativity is about juxtaposing, gathering, combining and remixing from the ideas and information that are out there already. There is nothing new but we can make it new by the way we see it.
But how do we make sense and stories out of the clamour of everything? People do it all the time, psychologists make a living finding out how we make our attributions and tell our tales. But what makes a person want to make sense of the world and then to make new stories and write them down for others? What makes a writer?
The writer needs to notice things, to make connections, to be charmed by serendipity and coincidence. But serendipity and coincidence are only that once they are noticed and remarked upon. We like coincidence, we enjoy patterns and attribute them with great significance because there is an innate blueprinted beauty in repetition, like a tree and its branches and smaller branches and twigs, all holding the original tree pattern. Superstition may be hardwired because we are programmed to find patterns and make meaning, even where there is none.
A writer needs to have an eye, like the interior designer with an eye for colour and style, the writer needs to pick out the particular and make it somehow new. These particular observances, even the personal and autobiographical ones have, with the right words, the potential of becoming general -making sense to a wider audience. In this endeavour, genre helps, we know the particular tropes and plots, the scaffolding within which certain stories can be told successfully. Alternatively we rely on the beauty and juxtaposition of words to conjure up an emotional, visceral reaction that will resonate with our readers. Like the interior designer we understand the value of colour, understand how certain features work together to sooth, excite, distress or challenge.
I’ve spoken recently about the power of walking and running in igniting creativity. Much of its power is in releasing the mind in order to help it see. Recently I went for a walk and noted the following:
Hubcap, (making a religion of solitude )
Daffodils high on a bank
More dog poo
A blue door
A blue bucket on a branch
A plastic coffee cup lid
View of the valley with houses
Three small soft bowed heads of buds
Picture frame in a window
Male and female duck together preening feathers in the river
Grand secluded gardens with clipped round hedges
A Victorian conservatory
A cyclist coming home from a long stint
My own breath, fast, and the swish of my raincoat.
I apologize for some of the less poetic observances there. Or should I? This stuff is life in all its awkward glory. Much of the life of a writer involves taking note – and note taking – making certain things significant above others. Perhaps another person on the same walk would have noted different things, perhaps even given the same things they would treat them differently. What I have shown here is pure notes with one meta observance on the first line. I have used particular words in some of the descriptions that others might not have used. If I go on and develop this into a poem or a story I might work further on the significance of particular items, I might increase the feeling of immediacy or heighten the senses, the feeling of being there, in some way. I might introduce character, character that will develop according to my own psychology. All these change will reflect my particular writer’s eye. But every writer needs to care, to observe, to have an impetus towards certain obsessions and delights and towards sharing them with the reader. You need to find out what is important to you.
If you have these fascinations for life and observance and if what you do with those fascinations is to write them down and if you then wish that you could share them with others, have them read them , then you are a writer. If you strive to convey the experiences and ideas in as striking, memorable, visceral way as possible then you are trying to be a better writer.
If you are on a train or on a walk, talking to someone, watching a documentary and something strikes you and you write a whole lot of ideas down, this is creative happenstance. What you do with it, what you can make and achieve out of that depends on your own unique writer’s eye.
Observe, Incubate your ideas, Craft, Stand Back, Reshape, Make People Care – these key elements make up the heart of writing.
Alison Wells runs the Random Acts of Optimism blog and lives in Bray, Co. Wicklow with her husband and four children. Her short fiction been published in many magazines and online and print anthologies and she has been featured on Sunday Miscellany. Shortlisted for the Hennessy New Irish Writing Award, Bridport and Fish Prize's she has just completed a themed short story collection Random Acts of Optimism and a literary novel The Book of Remembered Possibilities. To read Alison's full blog, visit Head Above Water. Find out in her Random Acts of Optimism how she manages to juggle writing, children and life.