Sunday, 17 October 2010

Using different creativities to help writing

So I promised (last entry) to say what papier mache taught me about writing. Two main things: trust and patience. Or maybe they combine to make one thing.

First of all, this kind of sculptural papier mache starts with a wire armature -- a stiff bit (or bits) of wire you shape into a simple sketch or line or stick-figure of the intended creation. A standing man, a sitting dog, a dancing rabbit... whatever.

Next, without going into too much detail here, you wrap the wire tightly with newspaper, then scrunch up newspaper and begin to build up the legs, arms, body, head... At first you use some masking tape to hold the scrunches in place, but soon you use strips of newspaper that you have covered with (special recipe) flour and water paste. Yum, that's the start of the icky, sticky, gooey malleable stage. You go on and cover the limbs/shapes with a layer of short torn strips of pasted newspaper.

Then -- you have to wait. Because it has to dry before you can add another layer, or another scrunch or three to fill out or improve the shape in places. In fact, you have to let it dry several times over this stage. (If you don't let it dry it will become a damp, mouldy, smelly lump.)

So where's the writing bit? About the time I was working on my third piece I realised that I had learned to trust the process. To be patient with the work -- AND WITH MYSELF. And I realised I had not been doing this with my fiction writing. So, step by above step:

The armature, the simple wire shape, is the backbone, the centre from which the piece will grow. It is a vague, vague outline of the end result. It comes after an idea or 'vision' (an idea of an idea), which may have some specifics but not many -- it is felt or seen rather than thought.

So -- a haiku; the vision or feeling or urge to capture something comes... the shape (the wire armature) is a given (usually) 3 lines. Or -- the story of my great grandfather Ephraim's life; I had the urge, need, to write it, but didn't until (after YEARS of trying) I broke through and settled for chronological 3rd person telling (the armature). Yes, this is structure -- but believe me, in both papier mache and my creativity it is not structure planned and thought out in detail. It is an idea of form, loose, open... but enough to be the start of a direction.

But the most useful lesson came in the waiting that the papier mache process imposed on me. No matter how perfect I want it to be, or how fast I want to it to progress, or how bad it looks right now -- I have to wait. Wait until it dries and I can continue (1-2 days). When I come back to it -- oh, hey, it's not so bad. Or oh, yuk, it is bad... but if I put a bit here and a bit there... etc. In other words it kyboshed my fear of imperfection. It made me trust that I can, and will, make it better. By doing it with less impatience, by accepting that for now, it is a mess. Some part of me knows where it is going, knows it will take time -- I manage to turn my chattery self-critical head off and just scrunch and paste... or write a paragraph, scene or page that probably isn't perfect, but at least it is going forward.

A final thing (for now) about the sculptural papier mache process: you can get out your Stanley knife and cut off the head! Or the tail, or the biceps or whatever part just isn't working. The dried paper-and-paste is easy to cut away and to patch over or rebuild. So liberating! And this is like cutting and shaping my writing -- yup, that paragraph has to go, actually, that whole passage is much too fussy and detailed, aha, if I move that last sentence down then I can put in an essential bit without ruining the flow et cetera.

Once again this is long-ish, and Downton Abbey is about to start, but I promised to relate this to your classes, because the point of this blog is not ego-tripping but being USEFUL. I can think of one thing, but will take too much space tonight. So how about just airing this with your students -- do they do other arts, music, dance, sport, where the emphasis is on just doing? And possibly discuss this quote from Paul Cezanne: If I think, everything is lost.

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