Mutes and Earthquakes

I’m reading a book about writing. I do that a lot. It’s a good excuse for not writing, because at least I’m reading about writing, so I’m doing something productive, right?

When I finally stop fucking around – excuse the plain language – and actually start writing (conquering The Fear, as the brilliant Ashleigh Young calls it), nothing can drag me away from the page. Not fear. Not fire. Not even food, and you know how much I love food.

I have been advised that my Do Not Disturb face can stop a man dead at twenty paces. Good. He was a weak character anyway.

In this way, writing can be isolating. Which is one of the reasons I read a lot of others writers writing about writing, and why I am working hard to build and be part of an active writing community.

In New Zealand, a large portion of that community resides in and works out of Wellington, so I endeavour to be there often. During my latest trip I read Mutes and Earthquakes: Bill Manhire’s Creative Writing Course at Victoria.  Published in ’95, it’s an anthology of 70 writers who were involved with the course and includes writing exercises, essays on writing, and contributions from wellknown authors.Here’s Manhire’s introduction.

I particularly enjoyed the essay on writing by Damien Wilkins. He notes that creative writing gives us the freedom to invent – and the freedom to revise. This reminded me of that Baudelaire quote that gets bandied about “Get Drunk (with wine, with poetry, with virtue if you please!”) or the Hemingway one “Write drunk, edit sober,” which was not actually Hemingway but much more likely Peter De Vries. He published the 1964 novel Reuben, Reuben, where the main character is based on a famous drunkard poet, Dylan Thomas. On page 242 the character says:

“Sometimes I write drunk and revise sober, and sometimes I write sober and revise drunk. But you have to have both elements in creation — the Apollonian and the Dionysian, or spontaneity and restraint, emotion and discipline.” (Source).

Writing is a constant push/pull exercise. The discipline to create something that seems effortless. Something divine that is totally in the gutter with the rest of us.

“If you say what’s on your mind in the language that comes from your parents and your street and your friends you’ll probably say something beautiful.” – Grace Paley

When I was halfway through researching this post I discovered what I guess is a companion book to Mutes and EarthquakesThe Exercise Book. Edited by Manhire, Ken Duncum, Chris Price, and Damien Wilkins, it is what it says on the box – writing exercises, many used in the IIML creative writing courses. I confess to only having read bits of it because I just bought two sets of short stories (Fiona Farrell’s Six Clever Girls Who Became Famous Women and Emily Perkins’ Not Her Real Name), Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird: Instructions on Writing and Life, and a new bookshelf because mine was far from sufficient (all total bargains because my local second hand store is temporarily closing) – but still, my book budget for the month is well and truly blown.

The IIML’s blog Modern Lettuce has some really good excerpts, including Manhire’s Performance Tips. These include “Never let the sailor tie a knot” and “Levitate without apparatus.” I mean, fuck that’s awesome. Sorry, again, but c’moooon.

It also has a whole bunch of exercises which I plan on challenging myself to do.

So I shall finish this procrastination and turn on the Pomodoro.

“Reading and writing, and then reading and writing, and keeping on going – that in the end is what makes the difference.”  – Manhire (again)



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