Thursday, January 24, 2008

Authors - Protect Your Space!

Doris Lessing speaking at the Queen Elizabeth Hall in London, told her audience that she feels “desperately sorry” for young authors, pushed into promotional tours and expected to do the rounds of literary festivals - in themselves enjoyable, but likely to take them away from the core business of putting words on paper:
We all know that writing comes out of a man or a woman sitting alone in a room with the telephone off the hook, a cup of coffee and in the good old days, a cigarette.
Ben Hoyle, writing in the Times, points out that the remarks expand on thoughts expressed in Lessing’s Nobel lecture on December 7*, which was recorded and played to the Swedish Academy hall in Stockholm because of the 88 year-old author's ill health. In this Lessing said:
Writers are often asked, How do you write? With a processor? an electric typewriter? a quill? longhand? But the essential question is, "Have you found a space, that empty space, which should surround you when you write? Into that space, which is like a form of listening, of attention, will come the words, the words your characters will speak, ideas – inspiration.

If this writer cannot find this space, then poems and stories may be stillborn.

When writers talk to each other, what they ask each other is always to do with this space, this other time. "Have you found it? Are you holding it fast?"

Let us jump to an apparently very different scene. We are in London, one of the big cities. There is a new writer. We, cynically enquire, How are her boobs? Is she good-looking? If this is a man, Charismatic? Handsome? We joke but it is not a joke.

This new find is acclaimed, possibly given a lot of money. The buzzing of paparazzi begins in their poor ears. They are feted, lauded, whisked about the world. Us old ones, who have seen it all, are sorry for this neophyte, who has no idea of what is really happening.

He, she is flattered, pleased.

But ask in a year's time what he or she is thinking: I've heard them: "This is the worst thing that could have happened to me.

Some much publicised new writers haven't written again, or haven't written what they wanted to, meant to.

And we, the old ones, want to whisper into those innocent ears. "Have you still got your space? Your sole, your own and necessary place where your own voices may speak to you, you alone, where you may dream. Oh, hold onto it, don't let it go."
(* I'm so glad that Hoyles' piece sent me off to read the whole lecture. What she says about the hunger for books and thirst for knowledge in Africa compared to western indifference among plenty, is something I can personally vouch for after living in Nigeria and teaching in a school as poorly equipped as the one she describes.)

12 comments:

KittyCat said...

Ahh...the wise words of Doris Lessing again. I've been blogging for years but am facing writer's block writing an article! Can you believe it??? Got to look for that space she speaks of =)

bibliobibuli said...

lessing calls it "blogging and blugging" and has a little rant at what a waste of time it is. tut tut.

i find the same think, kittycat. my fingers skip across the keys when i blog, and the brain totally freezes up when i have an article to finish. why, ah??

Greenbottle said...

because 'no country for old men' garnered so many oscar nominations i revisited coen brothers old films again and last night i watched one of their -as usual- excellent films 'barton fink'. this is about a playwright/writer who sold himself to holywood with the usual dose of coenesque eccentricities.

so, that's another thing. writers that write for money.and i think a few of our very able local writers are succumbing to this ...i think. a pity.

Anonymous said...

I'm glad you put this up! I loved the lecture when she first gave it. It made me cry. It was one of the things I'd heard in a while.

-- Preeta

Anonymous said...

I meant, one of the BEST things I'd heard in a while. Sorry.

-- PS

(I really like how my initials stand for "post script" but are also my initials :-) .)

savante said...

What a cool thing for her to say! Never thought of it that way but it's so true. Always remembered Jo March feverishly writing her tragedies in her garret :)

Genius burns.

animah said...

As I flew back to KL from UK, I was on anti congestion tablets. For nights I could not sleep. Words from characters in a new play would creep in and demand to be written then and there.
For about 5 feverish days and nights, I wrote and dozed, wrote and dozed. And I'm amazed at what appeared.
Unless I get back on those tablets, I can't get back to that state. Gene Girl has checked the box. She said there not available here. Singapore maybe. I will not name the drug, unless you ask me very very nicely.

Eliza said...

Sharon, thanks so much for leading us to the article. I read it aloud (felt like it) and the speech was even more beautiful. It's something to be thankful for - abundant books (and free textbooks).

a.a.g said...

"We all know that writing comes out of a man or a woman sitting alone in a room with the telephone off the hook, a cup of coffee and in the good old days, a cigarette."

Who said that Sharon? Was it Ms. Lessing? I LOVE IT!

bibliobibuli said...

good quote isn't it, and i wish i could take credit. lessing said it in her talk at the QE hall.

Anonymous said...

It's true. Almost all writers can only write under the influence (or non-influence) of some substance. Caffeine, Nicotine, alcohol or medication. I find that if I take too many painkillers I can write a book in a day almost :) but wow does that take a toll on your body.

Anonymous said...

Aiyo I think "almost all writers" is an exaggeration lah. My sample is not huge but only one writer I personally know uses alcohol to help him write....

-- PS