Saturday 31 October 2015

Write what you know...or not

Seeing Marina Abramovic's 512 Hours
Many creative writing experts/books tell you to "write what you know!" Seems a logical idea doesn't it at face value anyway. But if you unpack it and think about it seriously, it is really quite limiting because how much do you actually know and how interesting would it really be to another person? To be honest if people had only written what they knew a lot of the best books would never have been written. For example, if J K Rowling had written only what she knew could she have written the fabulous Harry Potter series that purportedly got so many children back into reading? My glorious nemesis and friend Foucault says there is no point writing anything unless the author is going to learn something. Well you're not going to do that if you already know it and I have to say I agree with him With all four novels that I have written so far I have learnt something new from the research I have undertaken, whether it was from sleeping on the streets, visiting drug rehabilitation centres or doing all the incredible research with horses or looking into the past for my latest WIP.

So let's be real and take that phrase for a walk and expand it a bit just like Cec Murphy suggests by saying 'write what you know, write what you want to know more about; write what you're afraid to write.' Now to me that seems far more sensible and reflects what we really do. It challenges you as the writer to expand your ideas and actually gives you so many options to write what you want. Now more recently I came across another idea which was once again a variation on a theme and that was 'writing what you feel.' Another interesting idea which seemed to open out all sorts of possibilities.

However, what they all seem to forget to mention is one vital factor. Not once do they mention story. And to me that seems quite a crucial element. It doesn't matter what you don't know, do know, want to know or even how much research you've you done if you have no story, nothing will really happen. Get that story first and then think about what you do or don't know. Be open to respond to where the story takes you.

The photograph is an example of being willing to respond to the story. 512 Hours was Marina Abramovic's durational performance in 2014 at the Serpentine Gallery. You went in and had to leave everything outside, bags, watches, phones. Inside you were given headphones so you could hear no noise and were taken in to the rooms. Nobody spoke unless you were the priviledge few that MA spoke to (yes I was one she had a couple of conversations with moments I will treasure) There were some chairs and benches in some rooms. In one room you could separate black rice from white rice and count it. MA would walk amongst the people occasionally taking people's hands and placing them at various places in the room. Sometimes even making them face a wall. At other times walking up and down with them.Always in silence. I had read about the exhibition. I knew what to expect. Or put it another way, (and this is slightly tenuous but trust me you'll see what I mean ) 'I'd write what I know' but actually when I was in the room and I opened my eyes and took in everything, I started to open my mind, I stopped just knowing and started being. The stories then began to flow. In other words, for me, writing what you know is not enough, if that makes sense.

 Just because it is 9 o'clock on a Saturday...

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