The joy of making things up

Bright window with glass cabinets on the left.

It took optimism to enrol on a creative writing MA — I can be a writer! I can be published! — but as I get older, I’ve also developed a pragmatism, tipping into cynicism, which can easily become procrastination, or even complete avoidance.

Writing feels dangerous. I have a strong, sometimes brutal, censor. It’s safer emotionally to not write the weird, violent, embarrassing, possibly shameful, STUFF, and I’m an engineer for a living, so there are endless projects and problems for me to lose myself in. I’ll write a post for my website, hell, I’ll rewrite my website in a new programming language, but I won’t write a few lines of dialogue to get a new story started.

This website is also called ‘Notes from the Peninsula’. During lockdown, I got into podcasts, and I had an idea to start one of my own where I pretended to be a writer in a fictional seaside town talking about the uncanny, ghostly happenings he observed as he tried to write a novel. There was enough energy in the idea for me to create a Patreon account, buy a microphone, research recording tips and record a dozen episodes of me talking about what I’d been reading and watching.

“We are called to become more fully what we are, in simple service to the richness of the universe of possibilities.” - James Hollis

Writing rarely energises me like that. My natural enthusiasms are all over the place, and I’ve spent too much time fighting my desire to diversify. Getting a novel published felt like a validation, but it also made clear writing had to be a hobby because the economics of publishing is stacked in favour of the big publishers. Considering the amount of energy, life force, and years of effort required to write a literary novel, it’s sensible to ask — if there is no money and little chance of success, why bother?

Or more usefully, why make art? And what is success to me?

Rick Rubin’s book The Creative Act: A Way of Being is about making art. He believes artists channel the universe/nature through their work, which is a bit hippy-dippy for me, but if you replace nature with the unconscious, I’m in. This unconscious material comes in dreams classically, but also fantasies, slips of the tongue, play of all kinds and especially improvisation. These all bypass the censor, and if we’re doing it well, they’ll bring to the surface unexpected feelings, weird images, dark thoughts and surprising connections. This is the raw material of art.

“One engages with work because it is meaningful, and if it is not, one changes the work.” - James Hollis.

If I want to write more stories, I need to rediscover the playfulness and joy of making things up with words. I want to finish more stories and make them as good and true to themselves as I can. That is real success. How they are received in the world is out of my control.