Joanna Briscoe and Grace Paley caught my attention this month. They’re very different writers but I’ve just read articles about writing by both. Grace Paley died in 2007 but a friend sent me her thoughts on writing recently. Here’s an extract from an article, reprinted here):
One of the reasons writers are so much more interested in life than others who just go on living all the time is that what the writer doesn’t understand the first thing about is just what he acts like such a specialist about — and that is life. And the reason he writes is to explain it all to himself, and the less he understands to begin with, the more he probably writes. …
In other words, the poor writer… really oughtn’t to know what he’s talking about.
It sounds mad, but it’s entirely sane. Grace Paley called it ununderstanding and it’s essential: I don’t write because I know the answers to life’s difficulties and dilemmas, I write because I’m looking for answers. I write in the dark, groping towards the light.
Yet somehow, for all the agony, it soothes my soul to write. Festering psychological horrors are brought to light. Lives are invented and made anew. The shapes, concealments and twists of storytelling form a puzzle that brings great satisfaction in the solving.
And the thing I would be proud to have invented this month in a parallel universe where time is infinite and all things are possible is a solution to something that wasn’t working. Nineteen years ago Michelle Mone was at a party when the bra she was wearing got so uncomfortable she vowed to design one that wasn’t. The result was not one bra but many, from Ultimo, the hugely successful company she founded.
So, when something’s ununderstandable or unworkable, don’t give up: make something new.