Clive Matson writes from an itch in his body


January 23rd, 2013 | Posted by clive in Uncategorized

“I write it so I can read it,” said one of our writers.

Of course, what could be more obvious? We want to read what we write, and that’s not possible until we see the words on paper or on the screen. And we instinctively take this further, don’t we? We want to share our writing so others can read it.

“I hope you write it so we can read it, too,” someone quipped.

“No!” The writer made a face, twisting her mouth. “You don’t get it.”

We look at each other. “Explain yourself.”

The writer slowed down and spoke emphatically. “I find out what the words are as I write them.”

This is a wowser. Is she writing so fast she doesn’t know what the words are? Or something blanks out the words, but she’s still able to write? This is mystifying. We ask her to continue.

“I don’t know what the story is. I find that out as I write.”

Okay, this, at least, is familiar. We often hear that writers learn what their stories or poems are about after a draft is done. Is this our writer’s experience, too?

“You discover what the story is as you write it?”

“Yes. The book was already written. It just had to get through my fingers into the computer.” But then she takes a breath and gives us the full picture. “I have no idea what the words are until I read them on the screen.”

She means it literally. Having “no idea” is extreme. I throw up my hands, this is beyond my experience. But the workshop must go on, so, hoping that this case can shed light on more ordinary processes, I invite comments.

One writer says that every writing day is an adventure. Her subconscious has been busy, very busy, while she’s not aware of it, at work or at play. “I love the discovery that’s involved in writing.”

“Writing helps me see what I think. If I’m just thinking it, it goes away.”

In Deborah Janke’s novel, The Spy’s Daughter, the professor has an alter ego, Gudrun, who’s a sort of muse. The professor explains, “Gudrun is the one who sabotages my plans and makes poetry possible.”

I’m reminded of David Whyte’s observation. “Poetry is a way of eavesdropping on what we didn’t know we know.”

Another writer comments, “To be a writer is to be a spy on one’s own insides.”

By definition we cannot know what the creative unconscious is doing, so that fits. We are spies on the work of the creative unconscious.

But not knowing what the words are, until you write them?

That’s a mystery of another order. Our writer’s awareness must be so close to her Crazy Child that there’s no space between them. That’s very unusual. Usually we capture words in our head and wrestle with them, knowing what they are, before we push them out our fingers. This writer’s words come out her fingers before she knows what they are.

Then our writer ups the ante. “I dreamt about my novel. There’s a photo that’s supposed to show all three members of the family. But the dream photo had only the mother and the son.” She looked surprised and pleased. “It was blank where the father should have been.”

“What did you do?”

“I killed off the father.”

And that, we found out later, worked. The father needed to be out of the story. Our writer wasn’t responding to a random message, but instead to a signal showing that the plot had already been developed.

“I write it so I can read it.”

We’ll give it full credence, the next time someone says this.


(With help from Elaine Watt, Sheila Meltzer, Jean Hohl, and Sally Bolger.)

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