Wednesday, 16 July 2014

The Artist Unleashed: THE WRITER’S AGONY & ECSTASY by Lindsay Stanberry-Flynn

Okay, perhaps an overly-dramatic title. A writer’s life is easy: sit down at the computer and write, make stuff up, invent a character here, a plot there. It’s not like being a deep sea fisherman, a miner, a brain surgeon. In comparison, writing is a doddle.


But as Ernest Hemingway said: There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.

And that’s what led me to the title of this post. It’s the act of creation – of making real, ideas that have previously existed only in your imagination, of giving life to characters you first glimpsed in the shadowy world of the subconscious – that causes both agony and ecstasy.

Writing fiction involves digging deep, using what is often described as the right side of the brain, which is creative, intuitive, imaginative. It drags you – sometimes screaming – from the conscious world into the subconscious. This can be painful as our culture privileges the left side of the brain, the logical, analytical, rational side. To enter the subconscious is to enter a dream world where anything, the magical or the crazy, can happen.

And this is where the agony and the ecstasy come in.

Let’s consider the agony first as this seems to be my almost permanent state during the first draft of my current novel. My mantra comes again from Hemingway: The first draft of anything is shit. I also take comfort from writer, Roz Morris, who says in Nail Your Novel: My first drafts offend my every sensibility. If you saw them you would think I’m not capable of reading, let alone writing.

I wrote the first draft of my novel Unravelling as part of my MA at Bath Spa University. I had a manuscript tutor, Tessa Hadley, whose advice and guidance was invaluable, other tutors and a manuscript group who critiqued the chapters as I wrote them. For some reason, all that input made the process less painful. The first draft of my next novel The Piano Player’s Son was harder, but I still didn’t anguish over every word.

So, what’s happened that the trauma is much greater with my current novel? I think one reason is that as a result of those two previous novels, my MA and my teaching, I’m much more aware of the craft.

I stare at the computer screen, paralysed with fear. I can’t write because I’m afraid of writing shit. I know only too well the answers to the problem (I've spouted them to my writing students often enough), but somehow I can’t silence that inner critic, can’t separate the drafting from the editing process, can’t let the creativity out of the bag because the craft is keeping it firmly shut.

Despite all I know about writing a novel being a two-stage process: drafting and editing, deep down I want my novel to come out fully-formed the first time round. But as Iris Murdoch said: Every book is the wreck of a perfect idea. In other words, the wonderful prose that is in my mind, the intriguing characters who will leap from the page, the brilliant plot twists I imagine, will not appear on the page first time round – and maybe not second, third, or fourth attempt either.

But at the same time I know that it's only through writing it down that it becomes a tangible manifestation of anything approaching that brilliant idea. It's an important document that will give me something to shape and build on.

My agony derives from a continuing duel between creation, intuition, imagination, the forces that drive me to write, and logic, reason, analysis, which stand there watching my endeavours, shaking their heads, pronouncing ‘But this all rubbish!’ It’s this that can sometimes make it feel as if every word is being carved from stone.

All of this so far has been about agony, but what about the other half of the equation: ecstasy?

Ironically, one of the joys of writing, the aspect that gives it its thrill and exhilaration is also in writing the first draft. When ideas flow, words pour from my fingers onto the computer screen, characters leap onto the page and become real, the excitement of the journey creates an enormous high, like surfing waves or enjoying breathtaking scenery.

The agony and the ecstasy of writing are twins, opposite sides of the coin of creation. The writer accepts the suffering, in some cases relishes it, in the hope of the joy to come. Without the pain of a shitty first draft, there will be no stronger drafts ahead, no completed novel, no grateful readers, no joy. The ecstasy is a product of the agony – a writer must embrace both.

What is your agony and ecstasy?


THE WRITER’S AGONY & ECSTASY by Lindsay Stanberry-Flynn #theartistunleashed #indieauthor #selfpub #amwriting

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Lindsay Stanberry-Flynn published her novel Unravelling in 2010, and it has since won three awards. Her second novel The Piano Player’s Son was published by Cinnamon Press in 2013 after winning their novel writing award. A number of her short stories have also been published or successful in competitions. Lindsay has an MA in creative writing from Bath Spa University and combines writing with her work as a creative writing tutor. She is currently working on her third novel.

Connect with Lindsay: Website | Facebook
Check out her books: The Piano Player’s Son | Unravelling

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1 comment:

  1. I can relate to the agony of the first draft and trying to make it serviceable in the end. Editing is much more enjoyable. I can take that idea, now fully realized on paper, and actually do something with it.


“I'm using my art to comment on what I see. You don't have to agree with it.” ~John Mellencamp

“Allowing an unimportant mistake to pass without comment is a wonderful social grace” ~Judith S. Marin

“I don't ever try to make a serious social comment.” ~Paul McCartney

“I'd make a comment at a meeting and nobody would even acknowledge me. Then some man would say the same thing and they'd all nod.” ~Charlotte Bunch

“Probably what my comment meant was that I don't care about the circumstances if I can tell the truth.” ~Sally Kirkland

“We're not going to pay attention to the silliness and the petty comments. And quite frankly, women have joined me in this effort, and so it's not about appearances. It's about effectiveness.” ~Katherine Harris