Sunday, 9 August 2009

The Art of Writing

I asked the writer James Kelman recently* what was his starting point for Kieron Smith, Boy, his answer was a joy. I could see him thinking as he started to speak: 'Well...' His eyes sparkled and his face warmed to a soft glow: 'you know artists studios...?' I nodded. He went on to describe an artist's studio: packed to the gunnels with stuff, gathered for the hell of it. This stuff inspires, feeds, informs and, sometimes becomes part of the artist's work, he said.**

His computer, he continued, was like an artist's studio: on it he gathers all sorts of little things, snippets, which he puts into files. He has hundreds of files like this. Some might sit untouched for years, but generally he will add to one or other of them from time to time. Every now and again he might have a look to see what he has, and occasionally when he does he sees the start of something, and that is how he works. He collects what may or may not turn out to be material, keeps it with no particular aim in mind, has a look at it from time to time, adds to it, and then sometimes he will find the suggestion of a story. One such file was the starting point for the book.

This notion has been percolating away in my mind for a month or so, I love the imagery of it, have always adored getting a peak at the studios of artists. One of the best things about Saturday has for me been the 'Writer's Room' feature in the Guardian Review, though, sadly that seems to have stopped recently. The thing I can't quite get to grips with, though, is the thought of keeping everything on the computer, everything. I wonder if he actually does, I didn't ask him? How I would love to be able to do that, imagine how neat and serene his room must be. I dream of having a large, virtually empty space to work in, no distractions. Unfortunately I can't seem to keep my collecting habit to my computer, it keeps spilling out into the material world.

My writing table, this morning. No wonder I'm unable to get any work done.

*At the Borders Book Festival during the questions bit after his reading, sadly he wouldn't know me if he had to scrape me off the sole of his shoe.

** I should just say here that I didn't take notes so this probably isn't exactly what he said.


Jimmy Bastard said...

" I dream of having a large, virtually empty space to work in.."

Can I suggest Rangers trophy room?

savannah said...

we are kin, sugar! i dream of a space like that and then...suddenly, things start to appear in the room...which is exactly what happens all the time. the intent is minimalist, but the reality is so much more layered! (i can't bring myself to say cluttered.)


Anonymous said...

Well I'll be dag-gone! This writer does some of my things too. Sometimes when I leave a comment on a blog I tell a short story. And I have saved countless of those on Notepad and saved them. I go through them from time to time and rework them into posts. Some are as is. It is a great way to keep things on a computer as a text file.

Thank you very much for visiting my Pick a Peck of Pixels blog and for the comment you left me there.
Pick a Peck of Pixels

PI said...

My computer room has a double bed in it - which no-one is allowed to use because it is covered with files, reference books, photograph albums, newspaper cuttings, batteries, tape measures and the odd bra.
A total mess but at least if the computer crashes they are still there.
On the odd occasion that one of us is hors de combat and the house is full I creep under one corner of the littered patchwork quilt and the whole caboosh reverberates to my gentle snoring.

Eryl Shields said...

Jimmy ~ you've given me an idea!

Savannah ~ layered, now there's a word I am going to adopt, XXX

Mr L ~ Notepad is a brilliant idea: I write things down on actual notepads and then can never find the one I want.

Pat ~ I can imagine the whole picture, except for you snoring, X

steven said...

hey eryl, sweet thinking! i keep stuff on my macbook - images, notes, poetry, thoughts and scrapbook them into "pages". sometimes a piece or a confluence of pieces or elements will trigger something in my mind and it'll either become a piece of writing for myself or it'll make it out to the blog.
before the macbook i worked from piles - well i still do when i'm creating for school - piles of notes and books and flowcharts and webs - and my space was a "mess" but made perfect sense to me because it has all that i am inside at that time. so there's still lots of talk between the analogue and digital worlds for me as well! have a lovely day. steven

Titus said...

Thank you Eryl, I was tired and fraught and then laughed my head off at the asterisks' explanations.
My whole house is my writing space, my whole house is a mess (hence fraughtness above). But no, hardly ever on computer for me. I need real, touchy things. or photographs of real, touchy things I've seen. And if I find something online that inspires me, I still have to print it out.

Kim Ayres said...

Take a look at that picture of your table, then increase the clutter but about, oh let's say 783.6 times, and that's the inside of my head.

I'm always coming across strange and wonderful things in it but can never find anything I'm specifically looking for.

angryparsnip said...

ohhhhhh your desk looks just right...

I try to keep my home minimalist, makes dusting so much easier, plus the whole uncluttered mind/space vibe going on but . . .
OMG ! my studio is full with everything and anything. I need it all. When I worked for Hallmark I kept file folders filled with research... but now I have tossed out lots and keep ideas, research in notebooks and it has helped..
I still have way too much stuff, but I really need it. . . Really !

Eryl Shields said...

Steven ~ I love pages and I do use it for journaling a lot, I especially like that you can overlap images so it looks really scrapbookie and that you can put text boxes on top of those pictures, I have such fun with it. But then I can't help printing it all out and sticking it in my 'real' journal.

Titus ~ you're back! Did you have a fabulous time in London, break a leg, knock the socks off the capital's literati?

Glad I made you laugh; you know when you write something and think 'this doesn't sound quite how it actually was,' but trying to explain would make it all tangly? That's how the asterisks came about.

I too have to print out the things I find on-line, they don't make full sense until I can hold them in my hand.

Kim ~ how I know how you feel! That's why I have to write, to try and get some of it out of my head.

Parsnip ~ studios are meant to be filled with stuff I'm sure of it. I've never known an artist with a minimalist studio, so I'm sure you really do need all yours!

I didn't know you used to work for Hallmark, what did you do for them?

Raph G. Neckmann said...

Ah, I love filing and organizing things so much that it can take over - sometimes I just have to put up with being surrounded in mess in order to do anything creative!

Titus said...

Yep to fab time, suspect no to the rest but the lovely beardy Tennent's lager man who dossed outside the Waterloo Church did call me "Princess" every night and liked the outfits very much.

angryparsnip said...

Eryl. . . to answer your question

When I worked for Hallmark Card Company like 30 years ago I was a greeting card artist. I did many different cards but. . . mostly
I did lots of card with funny animals and bugs that had skinny legs with big tennis shoes. In fact lots of my animals wore big shoes now that I think about it. . .
I have worked for almost all the card company in America, Most of it freelance.

shug said...

Eryl, interesting post. I'm willing to bet Kelman's got a rabid desk like everyone else: I find it inconceivable that he's tidied everything up in his computer. Kind of depressing thought, that. My desk's covered with rainbow fairy colouring sheets and savagely hacked bits of laminate flooring. Enjoyed the guardian feature, too.

Tousled Raven said...

I seem to work in a complete guddle! Books everywhere and the intention .....to be all neat and tidy but it never works out that way. I have notebooks of jottings to refer to, photos and things seem to have a habit of accumulating on my workspace. They gravitate to encircle me and I wonder if it's a paper-led conspiracy?
Should we start a 'bring back the Guardian workspace' feature? xxx

Eryl Shields said...

Raph ~ so you're a 'neat freak' are you!? All I can say is you seem to have struck the right balance when it comes to creativity.

Titus ~ perhaps he was actually a really famous poet!

Parsnip ~ do you know, it had never struck me that greetings card companies actually employ artists? Lord knows where I thought the art work came from!

So, are you an Olive Oil (from Popeye, not the food stuff!) fan?

Shug ~ I'm having trouble imagining 'rainbow fairy colouring sheets' but am fascinated by the fact they are joined on your desk by 'savagely hacked bits of laminate flooring.' Sounds like an installation you'd find at the Tate.

Tousie ~ perhaps it just wants to give you a hug!

I think we should start that campaign right now. I loved that feature and always cut them out and glued them into my journal, even the one's I didn't like.

Coffee with Cathy said...

Eryl -- I dunno -- your writing room looks just right. Sort of cozy and comfy. I'm usually at the kitchen table where I can see my neighbors (AKA the Pod People) water the pile of dirt in their backyard or at my younger daughter's old desk upstairs where I literally have a bird's-eye view of the neighborhood.

Mary Witzl said...

I have a friend with a wonderful artist's studio, filled with bits of paintings and sketches, sculptures, dried flowers and mosses, whole drawers full of different threads, roughly sorted by color, cubbyholes with rolls of fabric, plants in pots, half-covered canvases on easels -- all sorts of pretty, interesting things. Sighh... My inbox is nothing like that studio. I love the idea, but I can't grasp how this must be organized.

Crafty Green Poet said...

I have boxes full of ideas... I love the opening sentence to this post btw...

angryparsnip said...

Olive Oil big time ! . . . when first son was little he went around for months saying his name was Popeye ! ! ! then one day it just stopped. . . bummer.

I'm a big Studio Ghibli fan. I really want to live in Mitaka, Japan where the Ghibli Museum is..

My work area is filled with Japanese animation.
I'm really a 17 year old geek at heart.

Eryl Shields said...

Cathy ~ and you can, evidently, work as you watch; how I envy you.

I need to know about the 'Pod People'!

Mary ~ you need to get a Mac, then you will find out what you can store – and how! – on a computer. Of course it's all virtual, and mine is more like a scrap book than an artist's studio which is why, I guess, I still have so much stuff in my room; but it's pretty good fun.

Crafty ~ I'm beginning to see that any one who creates stores a lot of stuff. Are your boxes neatly stored, or do they spill out all over the place?

Thank you for your kind words regarding that first sentence.

Parsnip ~ I don't know Studio Ghibli, but you can bet I'm going to check it out right now!

I'm beginning to think I really want to see some of these work spaces people are telling me about, yours sounds just great.

willow said...

I'm very comfortable with my stuff (bits of ideas and favorite things)scattered and nestled around me like a comfy nest. I wouldn't feel secure and creative without it. It's somewhat contained, but at the same time very random.

Elizabeth said...

The picture of your work table is such a pleasure.
Not to mention a good picture in itself.
I love looking at people's work spaces.
The process of creativity is really as or more interesting than the wretched product.
All best wishes from New York.
Seems very distant.

Eryl Shields said...

Willow ~ I love the 'nest' image: my room is definitely nest-like too.

Elizabeth ~ thank you, I'm glad you like it. I do so agree, too, that the process of creativity is often more interesting than the product.
Best wishes to you, too, from Scotland.

Samantha said...

Those are useful tips, really informative. Thanks for sharing. Great post!