Finding Spaces for Writing: Reflections 2

Imagine your perfect writing space. Imagine you had the freedom to choose its location, décor, and view. Imagine all the sensory inspirations which you might incorporate into this space – music, the colours, textures, scents, food and drink. Imagine what it might be like with none of these, to be in an enclosed concentrated stillness, an intense fluent relationship between yourself, your pen, your page.

Imagine moving at will between the inner and outer worlds of writing: between experience, inspiration, reflection and imagination itself. What would it take for you to find this freedom of movement, to feel self-sufficient in the creative process?

We talk about needing time and space to write.

I have learned over years of studying, working, child-raising and more working to tuck myself into tiny moments, writing tiny pieces, poring over metaphors, picking them out like minute shell-treasures from heaps of beach-sand.

I have composed hundreds of brief poems on my mobile phone, dozens of short poems in my notebooks. When I give myself permission to research and write longer pieces, I feel daring and greedy. I feel guilty about using up so much time for myself, pursuing my passion for writing, with a life full of obligations and deadlines.

I am learning – slowly – to draw on my identity as an academic writer for my creative work, to lean into the spaciousness of thought and the strictures of rigor offered by the demands of a 5,000-word article or an 80,000-word PhD.  I am also learning, after many years of writing in my journals, that writing simply for the sake of writing, without a goal or structure, is also a valid manifestation of my identity as a writer.

Having an Arts Council NI grant to develop a collection of poetry gives me space and structure for writing.  The word “space” is not simply an equivalent for time; it also means permission to live intensely and freely in the world of writing, to recognise all of those aspects of my life and work which contribute towards my writing.   When I begin to map my writing world, connections and insights emerge.

My writing world is dense, well-populated, with exciting landscapes and many tribes with which I feel affinity. These communities exist in the real world and the virtual world.

They are the writers and artists I hang out with and exchange ideas and inspiration with in real life and online.

They are the writers I will never meet: they are the poets and authors who draw me into their worlds. Their poems and characters live with me, inspire me, make me think about writing and possibility and the power of the imagination.

My writing world is also the world of art and film and music, the spaces which enchant and intrigue me and make me think about creativity.

As a creative writing facilitator, I am responsible for inviting the participants in my workshops and courses to create their own writing worlds, to feel at home in these worlds, and to keep finding new communities to connect with.

I reflect on the spaces I create for others to write in, and how I might draw on this creative process for myself to develop my own collection of poems.  Whether I am designing a course, or series of workshops or a one-off writing event, I begin with an overarching theme.  In my experience, a theme creates a space in which to play with ideas, for the imagination to wander. The theme also creates an overarching structure, a scaffold for ideas.  I never cease to be amazed at the variety of responses to each of the themes; it is as if each is a window into a myriad of perspectives.

We seek an enlargement of our being. We want to be more than ourselves … We want to see with other eyes, to imagine with other imaginations, to feel with other hearts, as well with our own .. We demand windows.

My own eyes are not enough for me. I will see through those of others. Reality even seen through the eyes of many is not enough. I will see what others have invented. …Literary experience heals the wound, without undermining the privilege of individuality…. In reading great literature I become a thousand men and yet remain myself….  

C. S. Lewis An Experiment in Criticism (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1961).


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