Writing as an Adventure
About five or six years ago I think, I went to an event at a lighthouse in East London (this was the sort of thing I did quite regularly while I lived there). It was called the Lost Lectures, and while we sat on inflatable rubber rings on the floor, six people gave short talks about something related, very loosely, to the sea. I remember very little about what five of the speakers said, or even who they were, but there was one talk that has stayed with me. It was Alastair Humphreys talking about his, almost four year, cycle trip around the world.
I think I remember it so clearly because it was so funny. He talked about crossing Siberia in the middle of winter (which he freely admitted was a bad idea) with one of his friends, and how very, very miserable it was. It was bitterly cold, the going was slow, their bikes kept breaking down. Basically it wasn’t fun (I’m aware it probably doesn’t sound that funny, but trust me, it was). But, he said, they just had to keep going. They just had to keep knocking off the miles.
More recently, in Bali, I went to a Say Yes Move event hosted by Dave Corn. It was, I think, a few weeks after I had finished writing my (very bad) novel in a month. Quite a few people talked about their adventures, and I was struck by how similar the two experiences were: adventuring and writing.
They might not seem all that similar, one involves a vast amount of sitting, the other does not, but there is something about the two processes that is very alike: you have to keep crossing off the miles / the words everyday. Part of writing a novel in a month is that you have a daily word target to hit, and you manage to write a full novel in such a short space of time by hitting that target more days than you don’t. Sometimes it’s pretty tedious. Sometimes you don’t get very far, and have to make the words / miles up another day. But, if you keep going you will, eventually, get there. You will cross Siberia. You will write a novel.
In Big Magic, Liz Gilbert talks about how she decided early on in her writing career that she wasn’t just going to judge her success by whether or not she got published, or how many people read her books, but by how often and regularly she showed-up and wrote. I really liked that and I think it is a similar sentiment to what I’m saying.
I’ve been thinking about all of this a lot recently. I haven’t written much creatively for a while now. I started something in Italy, but never got deep enough into it to gain any sort of momentum. And I miss it.
Since moving to Frome, I’ve started regular pottery classes, and a couple of nights ago I went to my first life drawing class. I’m really enjoying both. I loved spending two hours focusing on lines and shadows. I loved building a mug out of clay, making something physical, real and potentially useful. But it’s also had me wondering why I’m currently enjoying being visually creative so much more than I’m enjoying being creative with words, when it’s words that I really, really love. I think the answer is that I’m not putting any pressure on myself to be good at pottery or drawing. I set the bar for my life drawing class as “recognisably human”, and for pottery “doesn’t leak”. I don’t worry about the finished result, I just enjoy the process.
Part of why I’m able to do this is something that can’t really be helped: I care far more about writing than I ever will about drawing or pottery. I can very easily create a wonky pot, or a out-of-proportion human drawing, without worrying about it, or questioning myself. I’m a writer, not an artist.
Yet when I think back to writing my novel, I remember how much I enjoyed it. How much joy I got from creating characters and making them do and say things. I remember the sense of accomplishment I got at hitting my daily targets, and that real sense of achievement at finishing it. So I know it is something I can do. I can enjoy the process of writing, I just have to think of it as an adventure.