Writing well and coathangers

You’ll recognise all those descriptions of how easy it is to write – ‘stare at the page until your eyes bleed’, that kind of thing – and they work for writers because we have been there. But what about the people who can’t? How do you describe the process in a way that puts them in your space? And what about really understanding it ourselves so that we can be more efficient about our own writing process? Bleeding eyes is not a good marker for success.

"Well, the well whent down to hell"

Yesterday, struggling first to get ‘out of the room’ as it were, because someone was coming later to fix the dryer and I couldn’t focus, I was suddenly hauled back into the room by a man wanting me to sign for next door’s parcel. It was like being on the end of a bungee – not that I’ve ever been there you understand but I’ve seen what happens – springing back into the real world from the deep pit of my imaginary one and with no time to even drop an anchor.

And there was the image: my writing process involves sitting in automatic mode above ground while my imagination climbs down a long, long ladder into a deep, deep well. Unfortunately, it has a rope around its waist and this rope is attached to the door bell, the calendar, the dog, the radio; any and all of which can drag my precious thinking back up and out into the daylight without warning. There is no opportunity to put my short term memory buffer into freeze frame, no pause button, and no instant replay. It’s like getting the mental bends and it can derail a whole train of unformed thought. Imagine the wreckage!

Of course, I can go back down once the interruption has been dealt with, but not only is the original impetus lost, the only way down is via the ladder – a long slow process made worse if there is further anticipated interruption on the cards. So my imagination hangs there half way down, stepping back and forth like a mantis and getting nowhere at all. Up to now, I’ve needed so much time around the descent and ascent that even the thought of interruption makes arriving at the bottom of the well less likely.

But when I do get down there, instead of an homunculean replication of blank paper, there is a pile of coat-hangers. Wire ones – plain and simple and empty. There’s also an empty clothes rail which I slowly populate with these little moveable structures upon which I will later hang detail. Unlike Stephen King who reportedly prunes his first drafts, I build on mine. The rail and the hangers are the skeleton of the story; they’re the elements of it and I often have no real idea of what they will be before I begin.  Once I have them, I can add the colours and textures, shift them around to manipulate time, layer them, mix cardigans with posh frocks and lace with denim, then stand back to see how it all looks. Sometimes I throw the whole dressing-up box at the rail, other times I’m aiming for minimalist chic so the favourite old boots and scarves are packed away back in the repository.

For me, there’s nothing like conceptualising something to enable better management and I find visualisation is invaluable. Now that I have this in mind, I can be more confident about my process and less swayed by the advice of others to ‘do it’ this way or that. I reckon I might also become better at using smaller tracts of time – getting down into the well more quickly and having more control over the return to the surface. I think I will be pulling out the ladder, cutting the rope, and installing a lift.

And now for the imagery, a clear vindication of my brief engagement with Fine Art:

mental well 1coathangers 1coathangers 4

6 thoughts on “Writing well and coathangers

  1. Yes, it is an interesting and telling image — the well and the ladder.
    Mine is far more prosaic, and, before I could arrive to it on my own, I borrowed it from writing advice books by Lawrence Block that I’ve been reading lately. He repeatedly stated that when the writing goes well, he hears his characters talking and just puts down on the page what they say. It stroke me that it was exacltly what I felt and how I would describe my writing experience when the words start flowing (or trickling in my case ). And please don’t make any parallels with psychiatric cases — I do hear my characters voices in my head but I’m aware of their internal origin. :)Naturally, I can’t hear these voices when I’m distracted by the constant demands from the outside world or seriously worried about something.

    • That’s similar to Stephen King as well – just letting the characters get on with their lives on the page. I hear them too – often using accents I can’t replicate out loud and wish I could – so if you have a psychiatric disorder then so do quite a lot of us 🙂 I think one of my big problems is not just distraction but anticipation of distraction, so having an image I can relate to will probably (hopefully!) help me get a grip on that.

      • I read Stephen King “On Writing” a while ago and don’t remember it all that well. If by some miracle there are no outside distractions, then the worst distractions come from myself, masking as Facebook, email, and myriads of other procrastinations.

  2. This is a spot on description of the writing process, Suzanne. As I write mostly during the day I know what you mean about doorbells and phone calls – it can be quite a shock to suddenly be yanked out of your well. Though right now I seem to spend a silly amount of time staring down the well – I could do with a push and someone withholding the rope!

    • Yep, I can stare for England too! Radio programmes become ‘material’, as does checking twitter, FB, all those open webpage tabs, my sock collection. So – ready for a swallow-dive …?

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