About fifteen years ago, when I was working The Resurrectionist, Ivor Indyk from Giramondo Publishing approached me and asked me whether I’d be interested in writing a piece about my work in progress for Heat. Although the book was slowly moving toward completion it had been an incredibly difficult process, both emotionally and creatively, and at first I wasn’t sure whether I really wanted to open up about how hard it had been. Eventually I decided I would, but in the process I found myself having to think about a whole series of questions about the way I worked, what I thought fiction did, and the ways in which my experiences with depression had shaped both the book and my life and work more generally.
I hadn’t thought about the piece for a long time, but recently I found myself going back to it after somebody asked me whether I’d ever written about process. Reading it again was surprisingly difficult – many of the feelings and experiences it discusses are ones I have no desire to revisit. But simultaneously I was struck by how little had changed, especially in regard to the mysteriousness of the actual process of writing:
“Novels – or at least the ones I am able to write – always seem to me to be curiously fragmentary things, at once prismatic and elusive. These pieces, these fragments, are part of a pattern, and they take their meaning from the whole, even as they reflect the whole within themselves. Finding these pieces, fitting them together, is not so much an act of creation as one of uncovering, of giving voice to something that is already there. This thing, the unwritten book, is like a potential, and to find it you need to learn to give way to the lines of force within it, the invisible tensions and attractors which give it its shape.”
I’ve now uploaded the piece. Although I don’t discuss it explicitly a lot of the piece is about depression, a subject I explored more fully in my essay ‘Never Real and Always True’. And if you’d like to read more by me about how I write, I recommend Charlotte Wood’s fantastic collection of interviews with writers, The Writer’s Room, or my interview with Catriona Menzies-Pike in Sydney Review of Books.
Albrecht Durer, Melncholia 1
Many of you may already have seen it, but if not you could do a lot worse than to head over to The Rumpus and check out Sam Twyford-Moore’s piece about writing and depression, ‘Don’t Get Me Down’. I don’t want to preempt what Sam has to say in the piece, but I will say that I think it’s both a brave piece and an intelligent one, and that I suspect a lot of it will ring true for many readers.
The piece is doubly interesting to me because Sam talks at some length about my own essay about depression and creativity, ‘Never Real and Always True’, which was published in Griffith Review last year. I’m not in a hurry to revisit the territory or the times that piece explores, but I will say how moved I’ve been by the number of people who, like Sam, have written to say the piece has helped them or spoke to them in some way: it’s not often as a writer you get to feel you’ve really touched people but with this piece I know I did, and that’s a wonderful feeling.
It’s also sort of exciting to find myself in dialogue in this way with Sam, who’s someone I don’t know well, but have a lot of time for. I’ve not read a lot of his fiction but I like what I’ve read, and as I said in my piece about literary magazines for the ALR last year, it’s difficult not to be impressed by what he’s done with the literary journal he founded a couple of years back, Cutwater. It probably makes me sound old to say this, but Sam – along with other younger writers like Rebecca Giggs, Sam Cooney and Jessica Au – makes me really excited about the future of writing: they seem not just to be a group of genuinely new voices, but to be negotiating a moment of profound cultural transformation with energy and aplomb.
I’ve not seen it yet, but the print edition of Saturday’s Age has an extract from my Griffith Review piece on depression and creativity. If it ever turns up online I’ll link to it, but in the meantime, just a reminder I’ve posted the complete, unedited version on this site, or you can download it as a pdf from the Griffith Review site. And please remember you can subscribe to Griffith Review by visiting their website, or purchase individual copies of Essentially Creative from Gleebooks, Readings or bricks and mortar bookshops everywhere.
Meanwhile, following on from Friday’s post about The Second Pass, I thought I’d link to another site I hadn’t seen until very recently, The Millions. A group blog with a very impressive list of regular and guest contributors, it offers intelligent – and substantial – commentary about books, arts and culture, and has recently offered a series of excellent articles about the future of book coverage.
That short piece about The Second Pass (and more particularly Genevieve, of Reeling and Writhing’s characteristically generous comment on it) reminded me that when I set this site up, one of my aims was to share links to articles and sites I thought were worth reading. That ambition rather fell by the wayside, largely because I found the tone of the site as it developed didn’t really suit a lot of linking and aggregation. I’m currently working on a major redesign which will allow me to aggregate links more effectively (a redesign which may also involve a name change, since I’ve rather taken against the name), but in the meantime, I though I’d offer a link to another site, and in particular a piece, I think everybody with an interest in the future of media should read, which is Clay Shirky’s ‘Thinking the Unthinkable’. It’s a month or so old now, but if you haven’t read it you should – it’s probably the most significant piece of writing the blogosphere has seen in the last twelve months.
And finally, my apologies if the content on the site has been a bit rackety recently. I’ve had a bit of a messy few weeks health and work-wise, so I’ve not really been on top of things (the WordPress system’s decision to eat my long post about the death of J.G. Ballard didn’t help either). But I’ve got good things planned for coming weeks, so stay tuned.
I’ve just realized the full text of my essay about depression and creativity, ‘Never real and always true’ is available for download on the Griffith Review site. Unfortunately it’s only in pdf format, so I’ve taken the liberty of cutting and pasting the text onto this site. And remember you can subscribe to Griffith Review by visiting their website, or purchase individual copies of Essentially Creative online from Gleebooks, Readings or bricks and mortar bookshops everywhere.
‘Never real and always true: on depression and creativity’
I’ve got a piece about depression and creativity in the latest Griffith Review, Essentially Creative. The piece explores the links between mood disorders and creativity, and asks what we’re losing when we define behaviours intimately connected with creativity as disorders. It’s also a very personal piece, and one I found quite confronting to write.
As I say in the article:
I am not sure that if, fifteen or twenty years ago when I began writing, I was asked whether it was connected with my troubled moods, I would have seen the connection. Yet, looking back, it seems obvious. I came to writing almost by mistake, stumbling on it in my final year at university. At first I wrote poetry, partly as a way of sublimating desire, partly because it seemed to offer the most immediate vehicle for the feelings and experiences I sought to explore. Later, when I began to write fiction, my motivations were more complex, but the writing remained grounded in these same feelings and experiences.
But these feelings and experiences, and more particularly their intensity and what seemed to me their singularity, were inextricably bound up with the cyclic episodes of sadness and irrationality that have afflicted me since I was twelve.
Unfortunately the piece isn’t available online, but you can buy Essentially Creative from Readings or Gleebooks, as well as in any decent bricks and mortar bookshop. Or you can subscribe to Griffith Review on their website.