§97 To write with no publication intention

To elucidate the suggestion made in §Note 96 that Bruce Robinson has a poetic comportment to his craft, we might consider those who feel the opposite about their own writing process. Despite Robinson declaring the process ‘lonely’, ‘ugly’ and ‘nightmarishly difficult’, for others it is a wonderful and magical experience. Does this mean that their relation to the activity any less authentic? If so, in what way? If not, how so?

An instance worthy of contrast is Max Porter, who recently published his second novel, Lanny (2019). In an interview for Waterstones, Porter explains that he felt the opposite to what many published authors describe as ‘second book syndrome’ – i.e. the terror of returning to that blank page after a successful publication.

Porter describes the same “desperate yearnings” which we might align with Robinson’s own Rilkean imperative to write, but without any of apparent ugliness and conflict. On the contrary, Porter describes the process as being “magical”:

I loved it. I loved it in a way that I used to shout to my wife “this is it, this is what I want to do.” It was wonderful.”

To explain why these two writers appear to possess such different experiences of the same process appears to be on account of how they view the nature of the activity. For Robinson, it is borne of a vitalistic angst. He writes to conquer, to finish, to lock down the essence of the thing.

Porter, by contrast, appears to come from a different perspective altogether, and relish the challenge of form rather than engaging in a battle with it. In the same interview, Porter recalls that before the publication of his first novel (Grief is a Thing with Feathers (2015) he

“… wrote a lot but with no publication intention and I didn’t think that writing was separate from my drawing or music or from art or generally from thinking, from keeping notebooks and fiddling around with stuff. And part of this was that I was never particularly comfortable writing prose, I didn’t think I was a poet, so I was always looking for a form.”

And here we can locate a subtle difference. To write with no publication intention removes the ghosts that haunt so many writers – their public and critics, their directors’, actors’, and others’ ‘interpretation’. By committing words from a position without any intention complete and share, Porter stays for as long as possible in that magical domain of tinkering with thought, ideas, characters and form.

/Pete Watt