30 December 2007

Jeanette Winterson/Writing what you love

Another of my favourite writers is Jeanette Winterson. When asked what my favourite book is, after my disclaimer that really it’s an impossible thing to answer because there are so many, I say The Passion. It’s a book that is, to me, perfectly written. It’s poetic, funny, playful, heartbreaking, and it’s a book I’m jealous that I didn’t write.

I don’t love everything Winterson writes, but I respect everything she writes. She writes with deep feeling and experimentation and skill. I’ve just finished her latest, The Stone Gods, and I think it falls into the ‘like and respect’ rather than ‘adore’, but adoration is a tough ask. I certainly liked it better than the chairman of the Booker Prize (who is, apparently, a statistician), who damned it as ‘a complete failure’. Winterson has said, in her December column on her website (www.jeanettewinterson.com), that they might use that quote on the paperback.

Also in that column she said:

I loved writing The Stone Gods, and I am happy with it. My advice to writers anywhere, published or not, is to love what you do, and forget about the rest. Writing is always hard work, always difficult, there are days of despair, that are times when the thing really isn’t working, but you have to be able look underneath all of that, and find the place of private commitment that is yours and yours alone. If that is there, and if it is real, you will be able to carry on. If it isn’t there, then you will be vulnerable to whatever other people have to say about your work – good or bad, and that is not right. For anyone who works alone, creativity is not about consensus. This isn’t to say that you behave like an arrogant shit – it doesn’t matter whether your gift is great or small, it matters that you care about what you do, and find enough satisfaction in it, through good times and bad. And remember, experiment is important, and the right to fail is important.
When I write, the place I work best from is one where I don’t care about what I think other people might want, when I’m writing something I care about and when I’ve giving myself permission to write badly. But it’s a hard place to get to.

Too often when people have started writing seriously (when I say ‘people’, I mean me, but this has also happened with other people I know) they clam up and it becomes so hard, because you want it to be really good first time and you know it isn’t perfect and so have trouble putting the words down. And then you feel guilty for not writing and don’t write because you feel guilty. Back when you start out, the words flow easily and it’s always fun, because it doesn’t matter so much.

So I keep on needing to turn off my inner critic, stop worrying I’m never going to write a good poem ever again, and write what I love. It sounds so easy!


Anonymous said...

Hey Hellie Boo. Happy New Year!! This blog is very informative in an interesting way and I feel my IQ rising as I read. Which is good because according to Time magazine, as I'm the youngest in the family, my IQ should be about 9 points lower than my eldest sister! And I should earn the least, too. I am, once again, defying the odds - huzzah! I've started The Odyssey and am surprised that it is quite interesting and understandable. Happy New Year to Seany Bear too. Love and kisses, Lindy Lou. PS Thanks so much for coming to my graduation - it felt so right to have you there. xxxxxx

Helen Rickerby said...

Happy New Year to you too! Don't know if you stayed up, but we did. We spent the half-hour before midnight looking back on the good things that happened in 2007 and discussing the things we'd like to do in 2008 (including more writing, but that's a goal every year!)

As also the youngest in my family, I feel we must do our best to defy those odds. I think writing the blog is, maybe not so much raising my IQ, but making me think a bit more clearly about things I write about, which is much the same thing.

I was delighted to be at your graduation, and feel that at least a corner of your degree certificate is there with my help (don't tear it off for me though). Thanks for inviting me.