Editing yesterday, and trying to disassociate myself from the words, which have become hard like soap, and tasteless. I feel like a discount Midas right now. But a good tactic I’ve found is to pick up an author, not necessarily one I am overly fond of, and to read a few pages before turning to my own. Someone who writes and thinks very differently from me is helpful. Murakami’s 1Q84, which I’ve been shaking my head over (so explain-y, so repetitive, so addicted to the cliffhanger chapter ending) but also hoovering up – it is enough to jolt me out of my usual tendencies, and therefore my usual mistakes. It clears the text a little, reminding me that I do, perhaps sometimes, need to set out what is happening and why, rather than always making the reader act as archeologist brushing at my dust.
Here is the other side of being a writer, I tell myself. We cannot read Proust all the time (though I haven’t read my Proust in quite a while. Too many other more urgent, exciting books in the way). The thing is, I have always been a huge snob when it comes to reading. I find it very hard not to be. This only applies to fiction, not books of theory (which I struggle with and give up on far more than someone with a PhD in English Lit should really admit to). I only want to read the best, that is, the most ambitious and enchanting and devastating novels. I want to get lost in swamps of words and carry those perfect, glassy iceblocks of prose around to wonder at – but. I also have to learn to write clearer myself, thinner, if need be.
If I want to acquire more techniques, I need to be able to learn from multiple sources. And not just books that strive in different ways (1Q84 a kind of giant jellybean souffle that I would never normally want to imitate). I need to drink cups of artificially flavoured hazelnut coffee and remember the punch of coffee from roadside gas stations as D and I drove through the American heartlands. I need to sip weird combinations of teas. Take risks on picking up unusual things as well as the usual, the popular, that I often discard. This does not mean I’m going to start watching Strictly Come Dancing. There are limits. I just need to listen to how people really speak, or how they speak when they are bad actors. I need to watch silly TV dramas and eavesdrop more. I need to sit in company.
I went to see Alasdair Gray reading from his collection, All the Short Stories, and was startled to find how direct and simple and yet effective his works were. I need to learn these sorts of skills. To be brave is also to approach the everyday without the defenses of dismissal. Frightening stuff. If I can learn to refine, then that will not mean I must always take something out of my words. That I must always dispel the pretty mist that hangs about them. I can make the choice to keep it in. But it might mean that, sometimes. The acquisition of a sharper, less precious eye. It might mean mundane bones and cheap fabrics. If that’s what’s needed to set the semi-magical, semi-flesh heart beating.