Wednesday, April 07, 2010

Inspiration - Emirates Airlines Literary Festival

The Essence of Good Writing is Good Thinking

Bahaa Taher, Yann Martel and Imtiaz Dharker with Paul Blezzard

“‘Genius is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration’ claimed the renowned American inventor Thomas Edison. But how does that apply to writers? And where does inspiration that initial stimulus to creative thought come from? Can it be ‘encouraged’ by leading a disciplined life in the writer’s study with designated hours dedicated to writing? Is the image of the starving writer in his garret waiting for inspiration to strike valid or do authors need to seek inspiration from the outside world? If inspiration is ‘the process of being mentally stimulated…to do something creative’ can it be taught or learned – and can an inspirational teacher encourage young writers?
Our panel trio of highly-acclaimed writers, each with a distinctive style and wildly differing subject matter, will be letting us into the secrets of how they write and what inspires them.”

(NOTE: I loved this session for its contrasts and how it shows how different minds and cultures work – this to me is what Emirates Airlines Literary Festival does best. By putting the different cultures on the same platform the dialogue is electric and eye opening as difference are revealed and similarities shown. I laughed out loud at the disparity at times – the world of creativity looks different through someone else’s eyes be they a poet or a novelist - Canadian, Egyptian or Pakistani/Scot. Link to biographies here.

It was also particularly tricky to take notes and keep up. I have used initials for the answers to the questions. Note: Bahaa’s answered in Arabic and I listened to the translation and took notes so I will have lost all the subtlety and possibly much of the meaning. As with all my notes - please forgive the many mistakes!)

Paul gave a brief introduction and then asked them to continue…

BT – all writers write – don’t know where their inspiration comes from. Creativity in itself has its own set of rules. The easiest form of inspiration is ideological. Good will triumph over evil.

Real inspiration comes from experiences a writer passes through – their own experience and other factors.

ID – read a poem to describe where inspiration comes from

Start with mud

Move it

Excavate with any tools you have

Clumsy earth

With daily labour

You set free

You call God

YM – there are two types of inspiration but normally it’s all hard work linked with a moment. The moment can be beauty which yields a moment of comprehension. It can be when things come together in a narrative.

Before writing the Life of Pi he was tired of being reasonable – it was getting him nowhere. On his trip to India religion was everywhere and he suddenly asked - what does it mean to me as it had never been a part of his life. He decided to look deeper.

-what would it be like to have religious faith

-no longer looking at the negative side of it

And that is when the story came to him – the Life of Pi is an explanation of what it means to have faith

SELF dealt with a boy who was a woman and then a man – gender and identity. He asked himself what it would mean to be a woman

He understands the question through the narrative.

ID – She experiences inspiration in a moment of stillness – balance and harmony

BT – magical touch – when you do this you write well. All routes are good – anything that brings good writing is good.

PB- Do you have a muse?

ID- peoples’ voices equal muses. She finds it at a busy airport or station…the moment in a busy place and where you find the stillness

- trigger outside (voices) but muse inside

- her muse is life

YM – it’s getting up early, it’s a daily affair, it’s business and you get on with it. It takes working every day to keep the tiger alive- to keep the story alive with writing. His muse is language. Finding the words keeps him going. Words are his muse.

BT - he doesn’t believe in muses as such, that inspire us but there are creative writers who take from their own imaginations and ability.

Muses are inside ourselves. We make the muse but really there is no place for muses in modern endeavour.

PBWhat sustains you when inspiration leaves you?

ID – not optimism. She doesn’t write for others she writes because she has to. Poetry is a hopeless cause. She wrote her first poem when she was ten and in love with an older man, twelve. He was out of reach and the poem had to be written and it still does.

When she first read Gerard Manly Hopkins she learned that words can be playful, things themselves, beyond anything in the real world

BT – Surrender – stop at that stage. Refrain from work and pursue inspiration with great diligence. Some writers wait their whole life for inspiration and this right – it is feasible that optimism is possible.

He finds it strange when people find inspiration gone that they continue to write – the writing has no beauty. They would be happier if inspiration returned. God is merciful.

YM – writing is now commercial

PBInspiration and Optimism

YM – can remember when he was 19 and studying philosophy and couldn’t understand Kant. He went to the movie and saw REDS and in it he saw the playwright Eugene O’Neil played by Nicholson. It struck him to see a writer visualised – he wondered if he could write a play then he did. It was terrible but he controlled things – he was a little god which was incredibly pleasurable – in fact the whole act of writing was. However he couldn’t move a plot forward but could do dialogue.

When you are young you don’t think about money and you can do what you want to and can be poor but when you get to 40 it sucks.

There is a concentration of joy in the pure arts.

You and your creation when you are young is magic.

BT – This applies to all real writers not to superficial – the sense of joy. Do not write unless you add something new.

‘I will sleep comfortably while others will argue over the meaning of my poetry’ (note: I don’t have the author of the quote)

YM – There was a hole in him that needed filling – a point of intelligent curiosity – the joy of creating all represented a reality that can’t be represented in another way.

A moment of disquiet is the start of art then joy takes over

BT – Inspiration springs from experience – any writing without inspiration is futile and useless

PB – Inspiration and Being Edited

YM – You have to compromise to be published. He thankfully has good editors – writing is social. Some writers don’t require editing but he doesn’t know them. He is not good enough not to be edited.

The great thing about a novel is that it hauls you up to the greatness of it. Make the changes you need to but don’t lose your soul.

ID – a poem is very different – you lose a poem you don’t change one. It is uncompromising

BT – I fought against changes and didn’t make them

YM – when edits come in he thinks ….she has completely misunderstood my book…a week later – well she gets it a bit….two weeks later – she’s completely right

Sometimes the book that you have written is hidden….


Liz Harris said...

A really interesting session, Liz. Many thanks for writing up the notes and posting them. There was as much in it for published writers as for unpublished - if not more, in fact.

The English Writer said...

Thanks very much for that, it's really helpful, Karen.

SueG said...

Fascinating stuff. thanks for taking such good notes and passing it on.

Debs said...

What an interesting talk. Thanks so much for posting this.

Chris Stovell said...

Fascinating to read the contrasting answers - thanks for sharing (again! - What a star!).