A Sounding Board
Guest Post by Sandra Clayton
Writers necessarily work in isolation for at least part of the time. If you are out gathering material it is only when it has to be transformed into deathless prose that the monk-like existence comes into play. For those whose inspiration is drawn mainly from their own imagination or memory that small monastic cell, also known as a computer, is ever-present.
So it is not surprising that we all need a little creative stroking now and then. I have adapted the phrase from a psychology course I once did which, among many other things, identified the purpose of those apparently meaningless exchanges we all indulge in. You know the sort of thing: from the bland, “How are you?” – which only requires an equally bland, “Fine, how’s yourself?” – to the more specific, “How’s your brother doing now?” This social stroking fulfils a need for human contact and reassurance which most of us experience occasionally.
A similar need arises among writers now and then; often around the time you decide you’ve just spent two days writing utter rubbish, wonder why you put yourself through this, or estimate that in terms of hourly remuneration you’d be better off working at Walmart. Or, worst of all, the conviction that no-one will ever want to read what you have written.
At such times we are fortunate if we have someone – a friend, a relative, an editor or an agent – who will offer that necessary bit of creative stroking; who will read the pages you thrust at them and make a suitable response. Nothing is as good as constructive criticism, of course, although on a really bad day a simple, “I like that,” goes a long way. More often than not, however, it is simply a matter of trying to grope your way to the essence of what you really mean. It is as much a matter of your thinking process as your writing skills. You know the answer is in your brain somewhere, it is simply refusing to reach your keyboard.
This is when you need a creative stroker most. I married mine (although neither of us knew it at the time) and I’ve gradually trained him up to a point where on a good day he can remain perfectly sanguine even when faced with a fifth version of something I’ve read to him four times already.
Not everybody has the time or even the inclination to nurture a creative stroker over many years, of course. And even with care and sensitivity it is still possible to overtax them as indeed I once did at the very moment Aston Villa was poised to score the winning goal fifteen seconds from the end of the match. But once he calmed down he inspired an idea I should like to pass on.
“Perhaps,” he said, “the solution is a telephone service. You dial a number and a voice says, “Press 1 for unqualified approval; Press 2 for mild criticism; Press 3 for brutal honesty; Press 4 for full textual analysis …”
My immediate reaction was that the person on the other end of the ‘phone would have to be superhuman, with a brain the size of the universe and a working knowledge of everything from translating Sanskrit to the links between moral philosophy and the vampire novel.
And then I realized the truth; what we writers need most of the time is simply someone to listen. To be a sounding board that reflects our own words back to us. Because in describing the problem clearly to another person the solution usually becomes glaringly obvious.
If you don’t have a person to hand, being the creative individual you are you can simply imagine somebody sympathetic sitting opposite you and explain your difficulty out loud. The “out loud” part is important. It focuses the mind.
Alternatively, if there is anyone out there who wants a change of career, from the thankless task of writing to the role of literary midwife, here is an excellent opportunity. All you need is a telephone, a good ear and a sympathetic voice. But you might want to put a limit on the hours your helpline is open because you won’t get many referrals if you snap at a client, “Oh, for goodness sake go to sleep!” even if it is 3 o’clock in the morning.
In the late ‘90s Sandra Clayton and her husband David sold up their home and set sail in a 40-foot catamaran. Since then they have covered around 40,000 miles. You don’t have to be a sailor to enjoy her books. They are written for anyone interested in travel, people and places or a different way of life. Dolphins Under My Bed was published this Spring and Turtles In Our Wake is due out early next year. Another one is on the way.
To learn more: www.sandraclayton.Web.officelive.com