Nothing

I think the fetishisation of process is both an exercise in procrastination (for the maker) and a refusal to engage with the finished work (for the audience).  But what do I know?

From the Q and A section of Jon McGregor’s website – in answer to a question about the pens and paper he uses to write with.

As always, I’m in two minds. I’m  not sure if I should have this quotation printed out on the back of my business cards, tattooed on the inside of my eyelids and scrawled in black marker on the wall in front of my desk  – or if I should write a long ranty blog post about how much I disagree with the sentiment.

I admire Jon McGregor’s work hugely and as a writer I can hear his frustration with interview questions about typewriters and at times I have shared it. But then discussions about ‘process’ more generally are a huge part of what I do as a teacher – helping students to learn technique, or to isolate and improve the technique they are already using instinctively. I think having students reflect on how they write and to examine how other writers read and write is integral to their improvement.And it is what I try to do to improve my own writing.

But then again, what do I know? I am always in two minds about everything.

I’ve noticed several spats going on in facebookland recently about various political events – topics I never talk about in public at all. This silence of mine is because I believe the days when novelists had status as public intellectuals and rent-a-gobs, trotted out for an opinion on every major event in public life are gone, and properly so. We make things up, more or less well. We use stories to comment on the real world. Or we don’t. We use fiction to tell the truth. Or we don’t. Why would any of that make our opinions especially valuable?

And my silence also exists because I am so utterly of my generation it is unreal. I find it more or less impossible to come down on any particular side in very many subjects. Everything I write examines the idea of truthfulness, of reliable arguments, of words meaning what they are supposed to mean. Point of view. It isn’t that I don’t care – it’s just that by virtue of being a writer I think I’ve made it impossible for myself to engage with these debates in any meaningful way.

Perhaps it’s because I grew up in a household where there was certainly a right and a wrong way to see the world, and my opinions about things were consistently wrong. Growing up under the weight of that kind of intellectual violence makes me uninterested in dishing it out to others. So if you disagree with me, I’m not interested in proving you wrong or convincing you to think what I think. If I even think it.

It feels very important to me to practice informed disinterest. I know it is an impossible stance to truly have. But I am interested in getting there.

Which brings me back to Jon McGregor. Maybe he’s right and I’m wrong after all.

Maybe all this blogging about writing, teaching writing, reading writing and talking about reading is just getting in the way of the reading and writing. Maybe the reflection is the final step of the process, maybe it’s just all hot air.

I think it probably depends.

And if this all sounds like cowardly navel gazing and a waste of words to you, well, I can see the value in that argument too. 

5 responses to “Nothing”

  1. Great post, Jenn. Thought provoking. I’ve been turning it round in my head since I read it. Lik you I both agree and disagree. I see how process can get in the way, obfuscate the getting on with doing it. But I also think that discusssions about process are one of the ways (perhaps the only way?) that writers can connect and communicate with each other. Personally, I really enjoy hearing how people do it; I find that dialogue enormously helpful in reflecting on my own practice.

  2. Simon T says:

    Jenn,

    I’m afraid my comment isn’t related to your post, but I just wanted to say hello, because I believe I might well be meeting you next Thursday at a Sceptre event? I loved A Kind of Intimacy when I read it back in November ’09, having been lent it by my housemate Mel George, whom you probably know better as the mind behind The Pygmy Giant…

    Anyway, waving across the world of blogs – looking forward to meeting you!

    Simon

  3. Simon T says:

    p.s. I think I’m right in saying you once worked in the Bodleian? So the Bodleian newsletter proclaimed a fortnight ago… for it is also where I (sometimes) work… I’ll stop, before I start to sound like Annie.

  4. @Simon Hello! yes, I used to work at the Bodleian. I never knew they had a newsletter. I hope they were saying nice things. 🙂 You will see me next week, yes. 🙂 Say hello to Mel for me!

    @Rachel thank you. I don’t really understand how a novelist can have strong opinions about things – or at least, a novelist who is not able to shed their strong opinions for the period of time they are being a writer. You’ve got to inhabit so many characters who aren’t you, and who you disagree with, don’t you?

  5. mara de manuelli says:

    i read your book and I enjoyed it a lot.of course I’d like to put a lot of questions but I’m not sure it it is possible. Just one. Did Annie kill her daughter or it was an accident ? I’m looking forward to read next novel. Mara

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