What Writing’s Like

I’ve just realised one of the reasons I find writing so physically tiring. It’s not just about sitting up at the computer and looking at a screen (usually I hand-write new stuff in a notebook, lounging as comfortably as possible on the couch, and only type it when my manuscript draft gets too messy to read). When I’m typing I do make the effort to get up and move around, but I hadn’t realised I’m physically involved in my writing beyond the act of typing.

I’m currently writing a novella that alternates between the first person points of view of two characters, a fifty year old male professor and a twenty-seven year old female postgraduate student. I suddenly noticed that I take on the physicality of the character when I’m trying to write in their voice. It’s probably not something you’d notice from the outside, though I think I sit up straighter when “being” the professor. But in my body – in my chest, neck, stomach – I can feel different tensions, exactly as if I were singing or acting. Weird! Does anyone else find the same?And what about when reading? Now I’ll have to pay attention, and see whether my body unconsciously adopts the physicality of characters I’m reading about.

This observation fits nicely with something I was thinking yesterday afternoon, about what writing is “like”. For me it’s definitely like sculpting – when I’m nutting out the story in my head, or describing it to someone else, my hands push and pull and squeeze and smooth the air, as if I were working clay. It’s also like listening to music: I can feel some inner part that sits very still and “listens” to the rhythms and melodies, not just of the words but of the ideas underneath.

Then there’s the sense that it’s like weaving, again with the hands, or maybe tapestry – the characters and themes are threads, that need to be woven together to make beautiful patterns, and the threads need to be held and pulled with just the right amount of tension. Then again, it’s like dancing – a skip here, a gesture there, a lot of ground to be covered gracefully, a turn to be made on the spot.

And now I see that it’s also like acting, and singing, and speaking poetry. Who knew we were doing so much exercise when we sit down to write? 🙂

What other art forms, or other activities in general, is writing like for you? I’d be really interested to know if writing feels like something else you do regularly (eg. if you’re also a painter, does it feel like painting?), or something you hardly do at all (I haven’t sculpted with clay for years, but that’s the first physical sensation that occurs to me when I try to describe what writing feels like).




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3 responses to “What Writing’s Like

  1. Fun question! That was on my mind a lot last year, during a few months where I wasn’t writing at all because I was spending a bunch of time with musician friends, and also taking a drawing class. The ‘time’ element seems to make a big difference, to me: drawing feels a lot like writing, just because I can lay out structure and arrange the pieces in my own time. Dancing and music exist in a different category, though, where I’m ultimately trying to perfect a *performance*. But the divide suggest some interesting possibilities, doesn’t it? (What would a novel-writing performance look like? Can you rehearse for a drawing?)

    • Fascinating questions, Charles! I think you can rehearse for drawing, by drawing, as Matisse did (and other artists who do lots of “sketches”). Then it’s interesting when the sketches themselves are celebrated as “works”.

      I’m about to find out what a novel-writing performance looks like – I’m on the editing team for the 24 hour book, an event in which a team of writers create a novel incorporating real-time feedback from readers, over a 24 hour period. I haven’t been part of such an event before and I expect it will be exhiliarating, exhausting, crazy, fun and bizarre as a process. I can’t even guess at what the product will be like. I’ll let you know!

  2. Intriguing blog, and something I hadn’t thought of before. So today, after I’d been writing, I thought about it and found that it was as if I had left my body; I was in the piece I was writing. In another world. It so happens that the piece is non-fiction, a travel article, but I think it would be different if I was writing fiction. I agree that one tends to think like the character does. I think you also become the character – to a certain extent.
    I’m not artistic; I don’t draw or “potter” and I don’t play a musical instrument so I can’t relate to your observations about weaving and sculpting.
    But it’s interesting to discuss the writing process and what writing’s “like”.

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