If you’re reading this post, you are probably a writer and you will therefore know that writing starts with thinking (and that often, thinking is writing). We might engage in months or years of thinking about a story before our ideas are set down into written sentences.
I’ve always believed that thinking cannot be separated from the act of writing. You know, alongside Descartes I think, therefore I am sits I write, therefore I think. So I got a jolt of surprise when I was recently listening to an interview with Charlotte Wood and she said, “Writing is all about not thinking”.
Of course, Wood is spot on. As she explains, “A book will tell you how to write it if you pay attention closely and you let go of your defences and your need to control the thing.” In other words, look, listen but don’t overthink. After you’ve mulled over the story for all those months or years and you’re ready to put words on a page – stop thinking. Stand back, hold the door open, and let the story stroll in. This is the lesson I am trying to teach myself this year. I have carried an idea for a book in my head for years and a few months ago started to pull its threads from my brain and onto the page (Dumbledore extracting memories in Order of the Phoenix comes to mind). But it’s been hard. Really hard. I thought after nurturing this story for so long it would come more easily but, after hearing Charlotte Wood’s words, I realise the sentences are not flowing because I am too busy playing sentry.
Nick Cave, in his famous letter, My muse is not a horse describes his relationship with his muse as delicate. He talks about the importance of showing her respect, of not spooking her lest she bolt or abandon him completely. This is how we must treat our stories, I believe; gently, kindly, with respect – and with unconditional access to the page. Then, perhaps the transition from thinking to writing might come just a little easier.