The dynamics of creative writing has often eluded writers (poets included). In response to Jeanette Winterson, advice on writing, “Experiment, play, throw away,” Abha, an author of repute, talks to a cross-section of contemporary writers, and differs with Winterson. Here’s an interesting debate, exclusively in Different Truths.
Recently I came across a statement that filled me with writer’s anxiety. It was made by Jeanette Winterson, professor of new writing at the Centre for New Writing, University of Manchester, as her best writing tip, given in The Guardian[i]. She said, “Creativity is inexhaustible. Experiment, play, throw away. Above all be confident enough about creativity to throw stuff out.”
Had she indeed said, ‘throw away’? This went against the grain of anything and everything I had learned in my writing years of close to a decade and a half. Her statement was a shocker, sending reverberations down my writing spine.
I explored this a bit, just to find my unsettled feet. Maybe she was one of a kind. Yet, I found there were others who thought like her. “Push further, push harder, and don’t be afraid to throw everything out and think the work through in a totally new way.” So said Adrienne Celt in ‘Dedication through Destruction: Thoughts on Writing Practice[ii]’.
Writing should be akin to a sandcastle then. Be like a kid and build on the seashore only to step on the sandcastle yourself and destroy it so that you may build another one. Or let the waters flow over your creation, disintegrating forever your work of art.
Before I took any strong, destructive steps, I decided to ask a few writer friends. What did they do with their little scribbles, notes, thoughts, or even larger pieces of work that drifted around? Did they destroy and throw and make space for fresh creativity, for new constructions of work?
Andaleeb Wajid, whose recent book, Will the Oven Explode, is published by Juggernaut, said that she kept all her notes and scribbles, because she was a hoarder, and also for sentimental value. She made her notes in books and liked to go back sometimes to see what she’d originally conceived and what it eventually became… and assess also how far she has come as a writer. She has kept all her random jottings over the past 10 years at least and does not see any ‘throwing away’ happening.
Singapore-based Jayanthi Sankar, whose latest book is Horizon Afar, does not destroy any of her work. She stores them as word files in her drives. Was destruction of previous drafts or works necessary to push towards creativity? She said, “Destroying neither aids nor disturbs creativity because anyway as creators we carry the spark within us.”
Hansda Sowvendra Shekhar, whose book, The Adivasi Will Not Dance, was shortlisted for the Hindu Lit Prize 2016, also saves everything, even partly written work.
Did he believe, like some writers opined, that destruction is required for construction and one should throw out work that does not work? He said, “No, I don’t like the destruction of creative works. If a written work doesn’t work for me I will just ignore it till I get a satisfactory draft, but I will still keep that not-working work with me. It is my work, after all. If I cannot accept what I have written, how will others accept what I have written?
“For me, ‘throwing away’ means ‘keeping away from me for some time’. Also, the human mind is the greatest memory device in the world, bigger than the biggest cloud drive or any such thing. So, with my mind still working, will I really be able to throw away what I have written? The memory of my writing will still be there in my mind. That will haunt me. Had the mind had a format button, then throwing away or discarding would have been possible. But, with my mind still working, how can I discard, how can I forget?”
Sharanya Manivannan, whose collection, The High Priestess Never Marries, is recently out, believes that “Different processes work for different artists. Personally, I don’t think anything should be discarded except with ample distance. Over self-criticality can lead to regretful choices.”
Anees Salim, whose book, The Blind Lady’s Descendants won the Crossword Book Award 2105, said he kept “all the drafts, notes, and even chapters from discarded novels. I can’t bring myself to throw anything out.” He, like Andaleeb, revisits his work sometimes to see if his writing has improved. He also revealed that “there is a manuscript I wrote many years ago which I am seriously thinking of rewriting.”
Author Ritu Lalit, whose last book was, Wrong, For the Right Reasons, said that she destroyed previous work, even destroyed current work if she found it shoddy. But such authors are few.
The majority of writers ‘keep’ their work, all of it. They see no reason to throw it, especially now that they have huge storage options like iCloud and more. If we must be practical, that is, for there is so much more to this attachment.
I remembered Stephen King and how his wife Tabby, saved his throw-away work. The crumpled bits of paper in the dustbin finally led to the writing of the novel, Carrie, published by Doubleday. I looked at some random scribbles and imagined them in the dustbin. There may be something like a Carrie there, which would be lost forever, who can say?
I have decided, therefore, that despite the advice of some writers, I will continue to hold my writings close to my chest, not destroy, nor throw anything away It is difficult to part with the workings of one’s mind. The muse may not visit again, or soon enough. Then I have just these jotted down random thoughts to scavenge truths from. On a winter’s day when I am looking for some hidden sunshine to lighten up my broodings about what I should write, I will ferret out such nuts to nibble on.
Photos from the internet.
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An internationally author, poet and British Council certified creative writing facilitator. Abha’s story, “The High Stool”, was nominated for the Story South Million Writers Award. Her poem-film “Parwaaz” won a special jury prize at Patras, Greece, acclaimed at international film festivals. She received the Lavanya Sankaran fellowship 2009-10. Her published works are Yearnings (poetry), Flash Bites (flash fiction), Shrayan (fantasy) Many Fish to Fry (novella) and The Gourd Seller and Other Stories (short stories).