In my workshops I am always looking for ways of expressing how a large novel emerges from the sprawling largesse of ideas, inspiration, life experience, literary apprehension and academic research that go into the writing of a novel. For me this can only really be expressed by analogy.
Because in another life I taught pottery I often use this very practical art to help me illuminate the process of making a novel and making it work. So -
You start with this great sloppy pile of clay (your ideas etc – see above).
Then: Búcaro. Museum no. 307-1872 (V &A Museum)
You let your clay dry a bit.
- Some salient notions and structures emerge from the mass (see above…).
You observe the colour and consistency of the clay.
- Imagine the energy of a particular story potential in the mass.
Then you take a useable handful and put it on a board.
- Write sketches that might be an element in the whole of the novel.
Then you ‘wedge’ your clay, slapping and pushing it on the board to drive out air bubbles that might explode in the kiln and ruin your creation.
- Test out the potential for order in your speculative writing; consider whether the sketches and ideas can sustain a whole novel without destroying it before you start.
Now you centre your air-free clay on your wheel, start spinning and pull your shapely pot out of the hard packed clay.
- Now you write your novel…. it will take much longer than throwing a pot , although it is no more or less art.
Then last week at the Ashington workshop I met Julie, a sculptor who is writing a novel, so we had some fun thinking through the Michaelangelo option as an analogy for the novel writing process.
Michaelangelo allegedly searched and searched the Carrara quarries for the right giant block of marble to fulfil his commission to create a great statue of David. When he found it and embarked on this enormous task he said that David was already in there, in the block of marble, and his task was to free David from the marble with his sculptor’s tools.
That also could be a good analogy – chipping and chipping away at a resistant mass to allow the shapely novel to emerge.
So on the way home from Ashington I wondered whether - as a novelist - I was a potter or a sculptor, a thrower or a chipper. Both analogies in their own ways, work for me, but my feeling is I’m more a thrower than a chipper: I tend to like building up rather than cutting out.
This writing business can be great fun.