Friday, 14 May 2010

OPPORTUNITY KNOCKS


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 Let us imagine the door between ourselves as unpublished writers and the agents (or competitions, or publishers) we long to impress.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.

17 comments:

Lynn said...

Sometimes I find my world so noisy, I can't hear my 'mojo.' An author friend advised me to do the Artist's Way again. And you mentioned it. It's a door, I see now, that must be opened again. Very thought provoking post. And timely. Thank you.

Roderic Vincent said...

Brilliant post, Susie. You have such a strong voice, I can recognise your posts now without scrolling down.

And this is exactly what I need to hear and do. I will adopt your exercise for one week and report back.

Thank you so much for inspiring me this morning.

Keith Havers said...

I've been trying to get this kind of idea over to new members at my writing club but you have put it so much better than I could. I'm going to read this out at the next meeting, if that is o.k. and direct them to this blog.
The first few weeks I attended the club I hated it because I ended up doing poetry, fairytales and other stuff which isn't my thing. But after a while I realised it was exercising my creativity.
It's a bit like cross-training for athletes. If you're a runner - do a bit of swimming. If you're a swimmer - go out cycling.
It doesn't necessarily matter if you end up with a piece of work that you're never going to submit anywhere. Just like crosswords or Sudoku. They exercise your brain but, at the end of the day, you throw them away.

Julie P said...

Interesting post, Susie and thought provoking. We are told to work hard at our writing but maybe, if the doors are closed all the time, despite our best efforts,
we are trying too hard and should back off a bit or, as you say, try a different avenue.

Julie

CarolineG said...

Brill post, Susie - like Rod, I recognise yours straight away now. I like the idea of moving in a different direction, and going where your heart takes you. I hope, though, with your door analogy, that you aren't thinking you've been knocking on the wrong one...is only a matter of time for you, I'm certain.

Susie Nott-Bower said...

Thanks everyone -
Lynn - I do hope the Artist's Way brings you back to the quiet of yourself. I know exactly what you mean about a noisy world.
Rod - Hooray! Will be so interested to hear how you get on.
Keith - I'd be delighted if you take this to your writing club, and please do direct them to Strictly! I really like your cross-training analogy: it's so easy to get stuck in a writing rut.
Julie - what you say makes me think of something I read recently where the old quote 'When the going gets tough, the tough get going' was contrasted with a quote from The Art of War (I think) which said (I paraphrase) 'When the going gets tough, the tough retire, reassemble themselves and emerge the stronger.'
Caroline - I hope you're right! Maybe when the doors are closed a nearby window may be open!
Susiex

Helen Black said...

Interesting as ever and you certainly struck a chord for me.

I often hear persistence is the key to writing, and I'm not going to tell anyone not to persist if they wish, but I for one, don't think I could keep persuing the same dream or prject if I wasn't getting what I wanted from it.

Like you say I would knock on all the other doors in the street.

Being open to other oportunities is vital.

Old Kitty said...

Hi

What a great way to look at things - trying new doors, discovering new ones, finding the keys to locked ones.. there are so many possibilities only if you just stop trying to open just one door when there are many others around!

What a nice positive way to see things! Thank you!

Take care
x

Fideltiy said...

Interesting ideas Susie. Doors don't open for me much. One important door that has was opened for me by my mother - I could never have done anything for myself.

But failure has its own rewards: Recently I was in Dublin for a visit and at first envious of everyone seeming so rich compared to times past, but when I was leaving began to see a negative side - cars that were far too long to park, besides having to be sat in static in traffic; expensive cloths that are filthy with two days wearing; noise on coaches, obsessive drumming in hostels; mayhem from people having too much to spend on alcohol; people bound up in inextricable sexual union with their laptops - their inner excitement opposed to their dull, morose outer images. All celebrating nothing.

All sorts of keys - punched hole keys, electronic card keys, secret number keys, ordinary keys.

Doors to work closed; doors to hospital closed; doors to romance closed(!); doors to family closed.

But oh, how wonderful it is to be left alone and to have just one door that always opens and gives you, whose ears were once precious, the right to control the volume knobs and choose between the detritus of rockers and the violin and piano sonatas which keep the poor soul alive in this world of hellish urban mayhems.

Debs Riccio said...

An intriguing idea - like the road less travelled... maybe I'll have a go... great post, Susie!

Susie Nott-Bower said...

Thanks, Helen, Old Kitty, Debs - and Fidelity, I love your conjuring up of the noisy detritus of the city.
Susiex

Derek said...

Lovely imagery and symbolism, Susie. Perhaps it's time for you to consider running another creativity workshop? I struggle with following the line of least resistance sometimes because I'm not always clear that it's the right way, just the easiest one.

Susie Nott-Bower said...

Know what you mean, Derek. But maybe there's nothing wrong with 'easy' sometimes!
Susiex

Geraldine Ryan said...

What a lovely post, Susie!

Susie Nott-Bower said...

Thanks, Geri - I know you've been through quite a few new doors in your writing career...
Susiex

Kirsty said...

Hey Susie,
I'm sensing doors being highlighted for you in that the minute I started reading your post I thought, I recognise this one, it's a Nottbower. I planned to email you to tell you your voice has become very distinctive, and opened the replies to find two others had highlighted this too. Telling you something?
Great post. Kath

Susie Nott-Bower said...

Thanks, Kath! :)
Susiex