Postiversary Competition Third Prize Winner: Where Do You Get Your Ideas From, by Sophie Jonas-Hill
Postiversary Competition Highly Commended: Is it wrong to describe a fart? by Debbie Ash-Clarke

"Quantity gives experience, experience gives quality"

In Zen in the Art of Writing Ray Bradbury says this:

An athlete may run ten thousand miles in order to prepare for one hundred yards. Quantity gives experience. From experience alone can quality come.

What I really like about this is that it runs counter to the idea which is implicit - or explicit - in so many people's ideas about how creative work happens, perhaps because it's implicit in so much of the modern, capitalist West, at least: that the better and cleverer you are, the more quickly and efficiently you should be able to reach your goal. Bradbury says it more elegantly than I did when I was talking about wonky ducks, but it's essentially the same idea. You gain experience just by the sheer practice of your craft, and get better, as a baby's mind and body learn to walk without falling down, just by wanting and trying to walk in as many different places and for as many different purposes as possible.

Creativity is mistakes, says Grayson Perry, which means that creativity is also just doing it again and again and again, letting the mistakes happen so you can go beyond them. It's wasteful. So be it. Waste not, write not, as I said a while ago.

A while back, I had some revisions to do to a novel, and it also needed cutting. A friend was surprised, because I was going to do the revisions and then cut it. "But then you're working on stuff you're going to cut!" he said. Yes, I was. But it was only once I'd revised it that I'd know what could be spared. And yes, I'd then have to do yet another pass of revisions, making sure that all the raw ends left by the cutting were darned back in again. So be it. In the rest of my life I'm a slapdash cutter of corners with the impatience threshold of a flea, but in writing I know that what makes sense in creative practice can often look like "inefficiency" in narrow terms of time or action, but it's nothing of the kind.

You can always tell a good craftsman by the ease they have in the workshop, no flourishes but also no restraints or inhibitions, no obsessive self-monitoring: just the right match of body and mind to the business of working the material from raw to art. Good writers, too, have stopped trying to "do things quicker" (except when a deadline looms, perhaps): they accept the time their stuff takes to write. So if Bradbury says this:

All arts, big and small, are the elimination of waste motion in favour of the concise declaration. The artist learns what to leave out

I don't think that need simply mean that we should all be trying to write like Bradbury, or Hemingway, in terms of simplicity, nor like Barbara Cartland in terms of speed of production. In cutting that novel I needed to know what I was trying to declare, as it were, before I knew which bits were "waste". Not waste material in the literal sense of being surplus to conveying the action (we could all reduce our stories to rattly skeletons of main verbs and single nouns and very dreary that would be for readers as well as ourselves) but waste motion: the movements of thought, image, action, which are in the wrong direction for the reader's journey through the experience you're offering, or leave no space, between the words, for the reader to make that journey their own. That's what you're trying to leave out.

So the working on a creative piece is about working towards what - by perhaps wild and apparently wasteful processess - is necessary to that experience: what the musicologist Alfred Einstein called the "second simplicity ... fullness in brevity". It might be Mahler Nine, or it might be a Dowland lute song. One is a thousand times bigger and more complex than the other, but they are both as full, as simple, and as brief, as they need to be.

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