Friday, 14 May 2010
I'm thinking about doors.
Every news bulletin recently seems to be featuring the front door at 10 Downing Street. The door to Power. The door to Opportunity. The door, as David Cameron and Nick Clegg tell us, to Change.
Doors are thresholds. They represent the moment of transition from one place to another. I'm house-sitting right now, living behind someone else's front door. Locking up at night is like being the caretaker at Fort Knox. The snib lock. The chubb lock. The two bolts. The chain. (When the doorbell rings, it's really cool. A short, melodic phrase of saxaphonic jazz meanders through the house, a gentle way of announcing the electricity meter man.) But I digress.
Doors are symbolic. Let us imagine the door between ourselves as unpublished writers and the agents (or competitions, or publishers) we long to impress. For many of us, these doors remain uncompromisingly shut. We hammer on them, ring endlessly at the bell - but there's usually no answer. Or else the door opens a reluctant crack and a voice mutters: 'Not today, thanks.'
Now some people operate on the water-dripping-on-stone basis. Persistence, they tell us, is all. Keep knocking and eventually the door will open. As long, that is, as you don't post cream cakes or condoms through the letterbox. And yes, persistence is good and necessary. But here's a radical thought:
How would it be if you only went through doors that opened to you freely and easily - in your writing and in the rest of your life?
Nearly seven years ago I decided to go to art college. I took a portfolio of my best work and arrived feeling reasonably confident. The two tutors who interviewed me were nice men. There was just one problem: I didn't understand what they were saying. They talked in Art-Speak, which may as well have been the language of Planet Zog. Time and again I stumbled, said: 'Sorry, but I don't understand the question.' I came out feeling terrible and for three long years, I continued to feel like I was living in a world where I didn't understand the language, until I finally left. I should have taken note at the outset.
The world has a way of showing us when we're off track and sometimes it does so very metaphorically. I used to facilitate creativity workshops for adults and was asked to run a one-day workshop. From the beginning, things were 'off'. There wasn't enough room at the venue; on two occasions I turned up ready to run the workshop and discovered that between us we'd somehow messed up the date; and on the third occasion I went to collect my materials from a local adult education centre and the key literally sheared off inside the lock. I had to enlist the help of several helpful (and - the one bright point - hunky) firemen to get me in. The workshop was not a success. Perhaps I should have listened there, too.
You may wonder (I'm beginning to, as well) what my point is. Let's return to politics. Gordon Brown's entrance into office as Prime Minister was hard work. The door to No 10 did not open easily for him. And his tenure was long, hard-fought and, by the look of him as he left, exhausting. Perhaps it simply was not the right job for him. So pay attention, if you will, to the doors in your writing life and notice which ones open fully and easily to you. Maybe your novel's hitting locked doors, but people are praising your poetry. Maybe your short stories are coming up against brick walls, but your idea for a non-fiction book is attracting attention. And don't forget the inner doors - most important of all. Where is your writing energy wanting to take you? Where do the ideas flare? What gets you excited? Julia Cameron has written screenplays, short stories, novels and, of course The Artist's Way. Her friends thought she was crazy when she suddenly decided she wanted to write a musical. But she was true to herself and wrote one - successfully.
An experiment: For one week, try following your writing energy. Forget the doors you need to get through. Your writing has its own wisdom, left to its devices, and this may take you over some interesting new thresholds. Maybe you'll be writing in the morning when normally you write at night, or vice versa. Or writing a poem where you usually write a novel, or an article where usually you'd write a haiku. It might mean submitting to an agent or a publisher who catches your eye or your fancy, just for fun. It might mean entering a competition. Or collaborating with a writing friend on a non-fiction idea, or a screenplay, or a musical.
Just as you have to kiss an awful lot of amphibians to find your Harry, so it may just be worth trying a different kind of door. Who knows? You may just find your writing mojo.