Friday, July 14, 2006

The Muse Works in Crowds

Bibi put her finger on it last night in the writing class when she asked why it seems so much effort to write when you're alone, yet when there's a group of you writing together from the same starting point, the words just flow.

I see this happen time and time again, and I love how fresh and surprising the pieces scribbled in just a few minutes in the company of friends invariably are. I used to meet my friends on Friday nights for a beer and scribble session, either in someone's house or a restaurant. (Didn't we get some funny looks!) Some of us were pretty motivated writers flying solo during the week, one or two didn't put pen to paper between meetings. But when we got together, took a random writing prompt (a word from a dictionary, the first line, a picture) and wrote at speed (a whole story in five, ten, twenty minutes!) there was a strange synergy that seemed to attract stories to our notebooks. Saras' short story which appears in the next Silverfish collection got written this way one magical evening at Leah's house. (Leah and I were both very happy with our pieces too!)

And here's something I wrote way back about one of our meet-ups in the early days:
The electricity was off in Soo Choon's house, which gave us a wonderful excuse to sit in the garden and write by the combined light of two torches and a candle. The simplest writing exercises are often the most fun. I'd brought a little pocket dictionary with me and we took it in turns to open it at random and read out the first noun on the page, which was our starting point for writing for three exhilerating minutes. Four people. Four words. Twelve minutes of frantic scribbling. And then we took turns to read out what we'd written. It was amazing how differently everyone had interpreted the words, and what a variety of images leapt from the mind. We were all off in completely different directions, with images and anecdotes and the start of stories that might yet be written. Mercy had chosen to follow one character, a sculptor, through all four of the prompts. "How come I've stared at my notebook all week and not been able to write a thing" said Saras "but the minute we all sit down together my pen can't keep up with my thoughts?"
Judy Reeves in Writing Alone, Writing Together (a book that influenced me a great deal) notes the same phenomena in action:
During writing practice groups, prompts are given and from these few words, stories, poems and essays and scenes from novels get written right then and there. At least first drafts that flare up wild as prairie fires or emerge soft as twilight in September. Seeds are sown, characters appear (and disappear), ideas take root, and notebooks get filled. Something else happens, too. A certain and electric current of connection, not just from one writer to another, but one human to another. ... Some call it the creative force. Magic. I say that the muse likes to work in crowds. Something happens when we write together that - if you trust it and go with it - can take the writing and the writer to unexpected, surprising places of memory and imagination.
You don't need much to make this happen ... a couple of friends, a space, a notebook, and a prompt for a starting point ...

Oh ... and a beer is nice.

21 comments:

sympozium said...

Prefer writing alone though. Easier to concentrate. Usually with a single piece of music playing on a loop for hours. And find it impossible for words to flow when I write with a pen and paper. But different penstrokes for different writer-folks, I suppose.

Spot said...

I agree with sympozium.

FInd it stressful to write with people AND using pen n paper slows me down too. I write too slowly.

But I do find that group writing does indeed get the words out, just that I don't quite like the quality of my words in those circumstances!

Sham said...

I find that I write at airports really well!!!! All the hustling and bustling around me :)
But have never tried it in a group - not sure how I would fare but am game to try a beer (or a couple ) and write in a group .
Sharon, see you in a bit - have some blueberry cheese cake and shortbread.

bibliobibuli said...

actually i agree with you, spot and sympozium - i tend to write my best stuff alone (but always pen and paper and speed for first drafts) ... but i have seen this phonomena work over and over ...

spot - yes, go with your computer ... whatever is easiest and fastest for you ... i didn't allow them on the course because it's all too easy to press the delete button and start revsing as you write

bibliobibuli said...

airports, sham? that's a new one! but i can understand it ... loking forward to seeing you in a while

Lydia Teh said...

I write fastest when a deadline is the next day!

Chet said...

My preferred way is writing straight into my AlphaSmart. But recently, I took up an index card to start sketching out a character, and next thing I knew, the words were coming fast and that was when I thought maybe it was time to turn on the AlphaSmart.

bibliobibuli said...

spelling correction: phenomena phenomena phenomena phenomena phenomena phenomena phenomena

Spot said...

Found the lyrics that refused to come to me when I commented earlier. This is Language, by Suzanne Vega. Emphasis are mine.


If language were liquid,
it would be rushing in.
Instead here we are,
in a silence more eloquent,
than any word could ever be.

These words are too solid
They don't move fast enough
To catch the blur in the brain
That flies by and is gone


I won't use words again
They don't mean what I meant
They don't say what I said
They're just the crust of the meaning
With realms underneath


Love that last part. I think it illustrates perfectly what you felt - It was amazing how differently everyone had interpreted the words, and what a variety of images leapt from the mind..

Everyone basically breaking past the crust of one word and finding different realms beneath.

Ooo...i have a craving for creme brulee now.

Sharon, without you and your blog, my brain would be porridge. :)

madcap machinist said...

Doodles & scribbles work for me in a busy place. Wish I had a tablet PC...

Yvonne Lee said...

I read in Writing Magazine that one British author wears a hat before she writes. Now, if a magician uses a hat for rabbits to jump out and this lady has words spilling out when she wears her lucky hat, then for me it is the traditional minyak cap kapak! This medicated 'axe' oil is perfume to me. It triggers my fingers to go tap, tap, tap ....

Ted Mahsun said...

I think I can write anywhere... it doesn't matter if I'm alone or surrounded by a crowd, as long as nobody talks directly to me, I'll be fine.

One time, after lunch, I was walking back to my office from the stationery shop after buying some paper and pens, I had this great idea for a story that I *had* to put down in writing. I stopped then and there to write. I was in the stairwell that leads to my office on the third floor. I just sat on the stairs and wrote and wrote and wrote, ignoring the people who walked passed me or stood nearby while smoking their cigarettes (no smoking in office).

I've even sat down outside the Ikea toilets to write a short story... those chairs are really comfy!

madcap machinist said...

Ted,

It's tricky isn't it when someone just sidles up to you and asks what you are writing about...

Ted Mahsun said...

Oh god, I never can stand that! I keep wanting to say, "go away, I'm busy!"

Anonymous said...

I think it was this past June you posted a link to a short movie titled, Bernard’s rejection letter. I saved the link but now it’s gone. I can not find it on your or any other site. I suspect the authors blog is also gone. Can you help? Thanks

Ted Mahsun said...

Bernard's letter.

bibliobibuli said...

many thanks, ted

the link does seem to have gone and i will fix it

Whitearrow said...

This is a very 'each to their own' kind of issue. I think.

Me, personally, I need to be 'alone' when I write, even when I'm in a group (ie. I ignore the group basically, but can feel comforted knowing there is humanity flowing around me while I write-perhaps I derive some inspiration from everyone's different energies at that point).

I do find though that it depends on the mood of the moment. Sometimes a whole swish of solitude produces a particularly poignant and ephemeral flavour of writing, or deep, dark and I-don't-want-to-go-there type, while the writing following a good conversation, a silly conversation, heaps of laughter, just goofing around, feeling the pain of the world...all writing after such 'events' seems respectively different... perhaps catering to the many windows into the world that we are looking through at the particular time before we write...altering a bit the window we finally look through while we are actually writing. It is magic. The most wondrous kind. Feeds of others, but the product can feed others too...excellent stuff...

I generally don't use pen and paper, except for notes and when I don't have an electronic typewriter, laptop or computer near me. Mostly because the words come very fast in my head and I prefer to get them all down before they're lost. Perhaps also the comfort provided in the thought that I can play with them later, add something here, pare down something there, allows my type of creativity the leeway for free rein...and, oh yeah, the wrist would be in a lot of pain if I wrote as much or as fast as I typed:) Good discussion, btw. Ciao.

Whitearrow

Thaatch said...

This reminds me of what Natalie Goldberg said about writing as a communal act:
(quote)
" Even if we go off alone to write in the wilderness, we have to commune with ourselves and everything around us: the desk, the trees, the birds, the water, the typewriter. We are not separate from anything else. It's only our egos that makes us think we are. We build on what came before us, even if our writing is a reaction to it or we try to negate the past. We still write with the knowledge of what's at our backs.

It is also very hard to continue just on your own...Let it out. Kill the idea of the lone, suffering artist."
(unquote)

Anyways, I have not tried writing with another writer. I think I should venture on this.

bibliobibuli said...

whitearrow - yes, this has been such an intersting thread ... and yes, everyone is so different. i find i write very differently with pen&paper as opposed to the computer - all the creative stuff starts handwritten and moves to the computer after first draft, but articles go onto the computer straight away. i'm a more pragmatic me at the keyboard. i even write the more creative stuff in a different room! i usually write alone but i enjoy writing in cafes and libraries. but the writing in a group definitely does generate energy and create some surprising stuff. i met my friends last night for dinner and they are almost clawing the walls to have another meet-up to write ...

thaatch - thanks for that. nathalie goldberg writes about writing with others (i was trying to find the quote last night) - making a date to write in a cafe with a running mate and when i first read it, i felt so sad that i had no running mate. i'm so glad i found a writing community.

bibliobibuli said...

oops missed some:

spot - love those lyrics! should engrave them on my heart

machinist - a tablet pc would be fun - i'd like one too

ted - enjoyed hearing about you writing on the stairs - yes, i also have the mad urge to get something down straight away and the strangest place i've written (as i told you guys in class the other day) is in the toilet of a restaurant during the birthday party honouring a very old teacher 'cos the ambivalent tone of the speakers talking about this guy in the past triggered the idea for a story