"I’m puzzled by the difference between
Two methods of composing: A, the kind
Which goes solely in the poet’s mind,
A testing of performing words, while he
Is soaping a third time one leg, and B
The other kind, much more decorous when
He’s in his study writing with a pen."
–Vladimir Nabokov, Pale Fire
Merely inferred and likely false statistics: 75% of people who’ve read Nabokov likely picked up Lolita before anything else. I accidentally fell into the 25% of people who didn’t. For as shallow as this is, the simple plum and grey cover with a smoking match appealed to me more than any of the other books on the bookstore shelf. I decided that curling up with the poetry and commentary hybrid would be the most ideal way to spend my Sunday–or as it turned out, the rest of the week. Each day, spent underworked and over-caffeinated (as summer days should be), I plowed through the pages and grew to love the abstract arrangement of Nabokov’s ideas.
The form itself proved the literary mind’s creativity evident, but the fictional poet John Shade that Nabokov writes had a seemingly universal take on creativity as well. His confusion held a mirror to my own, but the seven lines of speculation couldn't hold a candle to how complex such inner-conflict can be. For the “methods of composing” which confound Shade are on two completely different ends of the same spectrum.
I laugh at the thought of there being a particular “writing process,” aside from those exclusive to each writer. The true process is the flow of ideas from the mind to the page, for the hand and the pen are solely mediums for the mind. Muscles move, the ink permeates the paper, and letters form words, and those words, sentences. One can control each one of these things, with the exception of the mind–which is the most crucial part of the practice.
Too often I’ll find myself staring at a prompt, brain dead and hands blocked. No amount of coffee, genre of music, or particular lighting can liberate my ideas. A bright white screen stares right back at me, beckoning strings of words. The seconds on the clock taunt me, building up to sixty only to start over again–perhaps the fate of my ideas is the same. This is writing at a desk, writing because I have to. This is method B. This is forced creativity. The mind can’t create on command, just like how you can’t make someone fall in love with you or how humanity can’t change the will of the universe. In my experience, products of this method of composing typically tend to be mediocre, uninspired, half-assed, or any combination of these.
But equally as often as I am a slave to a blank page, I’m a master of my ideas. Room dimly lit from glowing paper lanterns and a brass table lamp, a cinnamon three-wick candle sits in my windowsill, steam rises from a black and white mug of green tea, nearly silent ambient sounds flee from small speakers–while miniature epiphanies flawlessly flow from my fingertips and fill the page, ending the staring contest. I’m not creating because I have to. I’m creating because I want to. This is method A. This is the story I wrote in my head during my morning shower, the stanza that was born during that thirty-second stoplight on the way to work, and the song that materialized on my coffee napkin. These are the only things I can ever wholeheartedly write. I can’t bare my soul if I’m uninspired, and I can’t find inspiration (or my keys, or anything for that matter) if I aggressively seek it. It’s something that comes to me in the most inadvertent of ways.
This is what makes writing so difficult, but it’s what makes writing so rewarding. We’re incessantly reaching for things that we don’t think are there, but we don’t realize these are things found inside of us and shaped by the world around us. One can’t simply dig for them–the ideas, the stories, the questions, the fuel–but instead they must grow on their own. Conflictingly, the demand for the written word turns us into machines; draining ourselves of everything we are to meet deadlines and page requirements. I mean no transgression to those who’ve sold their work (for writing is so valuable when it’s shared), in fact–I respect them. They successfully find the balance between running themselves dry of the sparks that ignite their work and finding inner peace within their pieces.
Entirely subjective but nonetheless universal, when we’re not in our elements, we’re falling through the cracks–between methods A and B–filled with cluttered thoughts and fragmented inspirations. Through Shade’s confusion and cantos (poems), Nabokov proves that it is possible to escape the robotic woes of writing for anything other than self-fulfillment. Those who write for fame and money, who punch the corporate clock in the name of writing–they’re the ones who collect dust. The only true liberation is to create something beautiful and innovative, even if it’s by accident.
–article by KATIE SCHULTZ