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Reflections of a working writer and reader



A Writer’s Notebook V

There’s a sentence in my notebook which says: Mind and imagination are crippled by notion, conviction and opinion.

Sounds like a quote but it came to me one night while I was sleeping. I woke with the words in my head. They weren’t quite arranged in that way when I first heard them. I wrestled for a while, like one might wrestle with the opening stanza of a poem, until I was satisfied they said what they were supposed to say. Then I went down to my desk and wrote them in my notebook.

They’ve been there for perhaps a year.

By this stage of the game I don’t worry about happenings like this. Somehow I’m involved in a process of developing a text. I don’t know what the text is about. It’ll be a novel, in all probability, because that’s what I do; write novels. I suppose there’s an outside chance it might be a short story or a poem or even an essay. But I believe it will be a novel.

I hear things people say; I read surprising passages in other people’s books; I see a shadow in a film; think a thought; I wake with words in my head, and all of these things go into the notebook. Many of them seem unrelated, but I know that they are related, only I’m blind to these relationships at this stage of the process.

Slowly, over time, as I dispense with my notions, convictions and opinions and open myself to language and experience and memory, my mind and imagination will stir and rumble and I will begin to make signs on a page and all that is now hidden, as if behind a veil, will come tumbling forth.

2 Responses to “A Writer’s Notebook V”

  1. The Old Hack says:

    But if you dispense with all notion, opinion and conviction with what can you fill the void? I’m all for the concept of ‘blank canvas’ in creativity of all kinds – it’s just that once the canvas is filled, your (or my) notions, opinions and convictions are published – whether we like it or not!

    jb says: Yes, of course, you’re right. But the hope is that there will be a degree of originality about the finished object. Isn’t our search for the best way to bring this about?

  2. Jenny says:

    Dear John… this was so interesting. It’s a bit like the Keats quote from his letters, ‘Negative Capability, that is when a man is capable of being in uncertainties, mysteries, doubts, without any irritable reaching after fact and reason’. It’s a favourite quote for psychoanalysts, too. It’s only in the pause between thoughts that creativity emerges, that the springing to life of an idea fizzes into being. I find quite regularly now that ideas about my patients, or the talk I’m about to give, or what I want to say to Henry or Rosy, drift up from the unconscious just as I wake up, as if they’ve been sorting themselves out in my unconscious while I sleep., and I know that as soon as I start thinking about them properly I lose flexibility.

    jb says: Hi Jenny, how lovely to hear from you. Great to hear that you’ve been there, too; and thanks for putting it into a Keatsian context . . . a man capable of being in uncertainties . . . a rare breed, indeed, these days.