Writing my next book: wanna join me in the process?
the ache, the ache
I need to get on with writing a book. I’ve been circling like a dog that is convinced that doing so will determine the best place to land. When I watch dogs do this I laugh. Just plonk your self down, my little friend! The circling does zilch!
So I’m going to just plonk myself down. And start. Slowly.
And I thought you might like to join me in the process from time to time, to explore the process of creating. I’ll invite the membership community to chime in directly on some of the minutae, too.
To join the membership community you might like to become a paid subscriber.
Where to start? Well I’ll just share where I’m starting right now as I get ready to take off to Paris in coming weeks.
First, I feel an ache
I’m not someone who writes to indulge a creative impulse (I contrast this with David Bowie’s thoughts, below). I write because I feel a collective ache and I want to understand it and help others with it. I feel a responsibility to go down into the ache and pull it apart and find ways and paths that might resonate with aching humans about the joint who are too distracted/busy with kids/scared to do the same. I feel I am possibly a good person for the job, in part because I don’t have kids, in other parts because I have bipolar, which makes me quite adept at the torturous process of going down deeeeeep rabbit holes and familiar with the overwhelm of finding dark things down there.
So, yes, it starts with feeling a new ache that needs to be attended to. In First, We Make the Beast Beautiful the ache was obviously anxiety, in This One Wild and Precious Life it was an itch. An itchy anger, fear, despair, overwhelm and sense of guilt that we were complicit in the whole sorry collapse.
In both cases, the aches were breaking my heart. And so I wrote books. I think often that I would have preferred to do other things, but I couldn’t not write the books.
Books are great for addressing aches. They are such intimate experiences. They are a gentle laying down of consideration and care for the writer. And as a reader, we can take our time with the processing of the pain, shifts and the raw moments of recognition.
The ache I feel this time? I’m still trying to name it, but it’s tied up in our existential vulnerability. In a cri du cœur, it’s “What the fuck? How is this even happening?”. Perhaps, as a first contact point, you can help me out with where the pain point is for you right now or how you’re feeling it in the collective?
Next, I wade in the muck and the mire
This stage is messy. I go out on tangents, reading too much, researching all kinds of angles, collating links and articles in email folders - I have 23 for this next project. I waste time. I confuse myself. I wail.
I pulse from this to sitting with various notebooks writing half in shorthand, notes that are too disjointed and crazed to ever read back.
It’s a vomiting.
It’s comprehending the world and the itch.
I also hike it out. Junkee Media founder Tim Duggan interviewed me for his book Killer Thinking. He asked me about this process:
Author Sarah Wilson’s main technique for creating space for thinking is hiking. ‘Everything works itself out, everything settles… my thoughts gets free,’ she says. ‘I often hike with a piece of paper and a small little pencil down my running bra. I’ll stop every now and then and write a couple of words to remind me. I get expansive, excited thoughts when I’m out in nature.’…
Sarah says one of the reasons that walking is so conducive to thinking is due to evolution. ‘The reasoned mind, the pre-frontal cortex, developed as we became upright humans, when we stopped crawling around on all fours and we got vertical,’ she says. ‘That rational part of our brain that exists between multiple thoughts and arrives at conclusions is best activated at the pace of walking.’
This doesn’t end. Right up until the final draft is being sent to the publisher I continue to do this.
TBH, my writing process is a wrestling and a crafting. A moulding. And a dance.
Next, I’m uncomfortable
This is a long phase, too. It’s lasts for years. I spend it not knowing - not knowing if I have any of it right. And all the while feeling the ache of everything, which adds to the discomfort, but it also keeps me on the job.
I now know this discomfort to be crucial. As Brene Brown told me once as we sat on plastic chairs in an empty hall, “If it’s uncomfortable I know something is happening.”
Annie Dillard writes in The Writing Life:
“Writing sentences is difficult whatever their subject. It is no less difficult to write a sentence in a recipe than sentences in Moby Dick. So you might as well write Moby Dick.”
Which I think is perfect.
She also says you should invite the discomfort: “Write about Summer in Winter.”
David Bowie (who I share a birthday with) has words on this, too. Around going to an edge, which smacks of Pema Chodron’s line,“The edge is where you’re meant to be”. Kurt Vonnegut wrote,“Out on the edge you see all kinds of things you can’t see from the center.” Yep to that.
I am not so sure on Bowie’s thoughts regarding playing to a gallery. I have a certain gallery - of aching humans - in mind at all times. But, granted, I don’t write to the peanut gallery of book reviewers and troll-y Murdoch muck-mongers.
Tim Duggan quotes me on this, too.
‘It is horrible,’ says Sarah. ‘It is painful, and deeply uncomfortable… but I just accept that is the way I do things, and that is the process I think of every creative: to eventually learn that your imperfect way is your way.’
For Sarah, creativity is a two-speed process, and both are needed to get her best work done. ‘It’s languid and loose and messy,’ she says, ‘and then it’s hurry-the-fuck-up and get this done.’
I’ll leave it here for now. MTK. But perhaps you could ask me questions to prompt the next post or two?
PS This week’s pod is with Dr Michael E. Mann (super notorious climate scientist; El Niño expert). He is best known for bringing the world the “hockey-stick graph” back in 1999, which showed a sharp “uptick” in global temperatures since the industrial age and signalled to the world “humans did it!”.
This conversation, however, goes to a new chapter in the climate fight. We cover two doozies: the role of Russian interference in the Australian carbon pricing fight and the terrifying El Niño event set to hit as early as July. I also push Michael to be honest - does he have hope, or is it a professional front…
The ache for me is a disconnection. The feeling that we’re progressing as a species away from what will ultimately keep us happy and healthy. It’s an increased sense of individualism. It’s a pressure to do more and more and more and do it on our own. The cost of living is reaching dangerous levels and people are moving back down Maslow’s hierarchy to a point where they’re struggling to meet their basic needs, never mind self-actualisation and belonging. It’s a difficulty to look after ourselves at the end of the day because the system has us putting everything we have into someone else’s money-making business for most of our lives and we are left aching and tired and dispirited.
Don’t get me started on social media/technology, potentially my biggest ache of all. Diminishing our patience, our attention spans, our creativity. Leaving us content with connecting from afar instead of face-to-face, intentional and meaningful connecting.
The ache of President Biden signing an agreement for the Willow pipeline, while knowing it not only goes against his own word, but that it will completely undo all the babysteps the US has seen with green energy