Writing seems to be a problem of some kind. It isn’t as if most people can just sit down and start to write brilliantly, get up from the desk, do something else all day, and then, next morning start again without any conflict or anxiety. To begin to write – to attempt anything creative, for that matter – is to ask many other questions, not only about the craft itself, but of oneself, and of life. The blank empty page is a representation of this helplessness. Who am I? How should I live? Who do I want to be?
– Hanif Kureishi
I’m reading a book about creative writing*, for two reasons**: I want to push the creative writing aspect in this research project a little further than I did with the Master’s thesis, without knowing what that means just yet, and also because I believe that learning about anything creative teaches you something about everything creative. When I came across Hanif Kureishi’s statement that attempting anything creative is to ask questions not only about the craft itself, but of oneself and of life, I psychically fist-bumped the man. It’s why I’m such an advocate of creative methodologies in research, but more generally, of promoting a creative mindset, because spending time with the questions, I believe, helps us to think critically about the answers.
Hanif had something to say about that too (emphasis mine):
Experience keeps coming. If the self is partly formed from the blows, wounds and marks made by the world, then writing is a kind of self-healing. But creativity initiates disturbance too. It is a kind of scepticism which attacks that which is petrified.
A sort of instability, he called it. In my Master’s thesis I talked about it in terms of Chaos, in the sense that it exists in the gap between possibility and presence, the things which could be and those that already are. Creativity, in writing, in art, in arts-based research, in all different kinds of research, can help uncover the things that can be learned and understood within that gap; it is a way to spend more time looking at what could be, I suppose, than replicating what already exists. Not for its own sake, but in order that new ideas, new points of view, new ways of doing things. new knowledge that can be brought across that gap. A bridge between possibility and presence.
Can I use another quote? I’ll be quoting a lot for a while because I’m at the stage in my research where I need to read a thousand things to understand both my subject matter and my approach to that subject matter, and also I like to quote. This one from Hilary Mantel:
When you stand on the verge of a new narrative, when you have picked your character, you stretch out your hand in the dark and you don’t know who or what will take it.***
I don’t know who or what will take my outstretched hand. But I do know that standing here at the beginning of the beginning and waiting to see what and who and how everything unfolds is my most favourite place to be.
*Writing a First Novel, edited by Karen Stevens
**Three reasons. It’s also just fun.
***As quoted by Alison McLeod in her essay “Hearing Voices”, Chapter 9 of that very same book.