The Champagne Method of Writing

Picking up on both Sara and Martin’s comments, I want to grab this chance to reiterate my belief system (or part of it) in relation to writing.

I didn’t train as a writer, and came to the profession late. As a result, my techniques are based in other disciplines and careers; photographic modelling, conflict resolution, and factory and hotel management to name just four! Nobody ever told me it should be a painful, draining process to write, nor that I should expect rejection, nor that I should suffer. They did tell me those things about modelling, but actually I breezed through my short, undistinguished career in front of the camera; having a great time, not developing any neuroses that I didn’t have before, and making friends who’ve lasted for decades. As a result of all this, and of years spent listening to different sides in insoluble conflicts expounding their beliefs, I’m very sceptical about ‘mythologies’. Here are a few.

1 – Success is a continuous upward curve
2 – Creative people are more prone to depression
3 – You have to suffer for your art.

Success is actually more like a tide – it ebbs and flows. Don’t believe me? Read the autobiography of almost any scientist, creator or business mogul. Make a chart on the back of the envelope of their ‘good’ and ‘bad’ times, ideas or initiatives. I’m prepared to bet it’s more like a Mexican wave than an upward line.

Creative people are BETTER at getting help for depression. Find those statistics about writers committing suicide etc and compare them to the general population cohort during the same period. Almost always you’ll find that artists and writers are in fact UNDER represented in serious mental health problems. However, they are also much more likely to be honest about mental health issues, which is why the story comes about. First because they seek help early and so show up statistically as ‘ill’ rather than just ‘committed to institution’ and second because they communicate their mental health much more honestly than many other professions. Finally, they show up because they are noteworthy – how often do you hear ‘steelworker drowns himself in river’ or ‘shopworker commits suicide with shotgun’? But if I say Virginia Woolf and Papa Hemingway … sounds familiar doesn’t it?

You only have to suffer for your art if you choose to – seriously, it’s true. Go back to those autobiographies and read them again. Yes, many writers and artists find their creative pursuit difficult at times, but if you highlight their positive experiences in one colour and their negative ones in another, you will find that for most people, writing about their own creative life, the good massively outweighs the bad. The thing is, good times don’t make for great news stories, so the media spout about the van Gogh ear and fail to comment on the years of happy vagabond life with good friends on the open road, travelling, eating on the hoof, debating, getting drunk and so on. Or they ignore many happy, contented and utterly fulfilled creative people entirely – what do you know about Georgia O’Keeffe for example? Or Willa Cather? Not a lot, I’ll bet – but everybody knows how Virginia Woolf died.

If you believe these mythologies, you tend to accrete their trappings to your own creativity. I prefer the mythologies of sport, like the endless effortless running of Paul Tergat, for example, or the late blooming of Paula Radcliffe, and by attaching those mythologies to my creative pursuits, I have positive models that I use when things get tough. Paula was written off as a runner before she became the world’s marathon queen – so it’s never too late. And Paul says ‘Running is about the pleasure of your feet, not the pain. Who can run well if they are thinking about pain?’ So choosing those icons allows me to assume writing should be pleasurable and that the best is yet to come – so far, it’s working fine for me!

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