Friday, May 8, 2009

through the resistance

US author Jayne Anne Phillips, praised once by Nadine Gordimer as "the best short story writer since Eudora Welty", believes that the tension of balancing the roles of writer, mother, director and teacher in an MFA program for writers feeds her work.

“Everyday you force yourself through the resistance you are working with and you get deeper into the material. This way you get to stuff you wouldn’t have access to otherwise,” said Phillips.

“My work has to be so deeply compelling that I can put it down and return to it, re-enter it, at another time. I don’t have the kind of life where I can set a (per day) page count or a word count. The tension of needing to do the work affects the intensity of the kind of prose I write.”

Hallelujah for that. I was just thinking today how I am writing too much of my new novel in my head at the moment mainly because I am tied up with too many other things -much along the same lines as Jayne Anne Phillips - and there aren't enough hours in the day. I have many scenes waiting to be put onto paper - varying from those with strong definition that change very little, to those that continually shift and change and blend and re-form much like oil paints on water before you lay white paper on top to create a marbled effect. I guess Phillips is right that when I get to the computer in the key hole of time I am able to make for myself then the writing has to rear up and push its way through - there is no time for mucking around - and the novel sucks in some of this intensity/tension and is able to go deeper than you'd think it would.

Sometimes, though, I delay writing because I still need to think things through. That's certainly happened in the last few days when I have come to realise that the end of the novel [which I always write early on] isn't what I wanted at all. I get it now. This new ending - the one in my brain with a small picket fence around it - is much better than the last one which had a frenetic and desperate feel to it. I had another realisation watching my daughter play netball today - it has something to do with a fur coat and what someone else told me yesterday about a book she loved as a child. Suddenly those two things connected with something else inside the novel and a stray thought I had a while ago - and bingo! Just need to get it down on paper now.

More from the Jayne Anne Phillips interview here.


Anonymous said...

yes, sucking up all the great gifts of the present and the connections they make, much better than a pre-determined idea...

Tania Roxborogh said...

Exactly, Mary. My body won't allow me to sleep late (i.e., I'm awake at least by 5am) but I love just lying there 'seeing' the next scene. It's nice to know there are other writers out there who aren't disciplined (eg the so-many-words-a-day or such and such hours) but have to grab the time when it comes. You call it the key hole of time; I call it the rouge wave and liken it to the concept of the seventh wave. If you sit on the beach and watch the waves come in, every now and then, one will be bigger than all the rest – it will be more powerful, be higher, stay rounded longer and come in further than all the others. My writing comes in waves like this rogue one. One can’t guarantee when it will come, but if you hang around in the sea long enough, you’ll bound to catch it and it will be a great ride. I did a little investigation into these waves: apparently they are affected by the condition of the sea or the weather, drawing power and energy from their surroundings. That pretty much sums up what happens when these waves come upon me – it takes up all my thinking and many things go on hold while I ride the wave. And, like the unpredictability of when the wave strikes, the duration of the ride is also unpredictable – I usually have to topple off it (or get pushed off by a kid wanting to be fed or the body’s demand for sleep).