Writing Worlds

It has been a while since I’ve immersed in other worlds. It is these worlds, or possible worlds, that have been playing around inside for some days now. Perhaps there may well be just the seven standard plot-lines, as some advocate, but there are endless worlds to write. This is both an open invitation, a door to the confectionary shop, and something else (not so tragic as a ‘curse’ but bordering on a little overwhelming, at least, at times).

Just when we think we’ve got our writing pinned down, our place in the space of possible books inked in, our genre-direction, along comes a tugging at the sleeve: what if you tried it this way, or dabbled that way? Rather than the Ineffable Muse, this is the Imp in our writerly limp. Try to shake him off but he’s made of burdock and he sticks there steadfastly.

This isn’t a post about genres. This is a post about worlds. Despite the endlessness of worlds, I can’t write them all here. So, what is it that these worlds boil down to for me? How can they be collected? What is it that each collection is? Perhaps, in worlds, we’re limited to time:

Real now worlds

I go through phases of wanting very much to write what I really see, what I really feel in the very now, out there, or with imagined others, in the reality of their lives. The trouble is, the real world out there just doesn’t seem real enough sometimes. Sure, there are amazing real sights and emotions to fall through, but this is why other writers fall to the fantasies of their dragons and their swords, their allegories and their epic densities: the real world doesn’t always satisfy.

I’m hugely envious of writers of the real world. They can effortlessly conjure up fictions and place them squarely just outside my door, solid as it is. From page one they write place and purpose, the sensory, characters who feel and think and talk just like any of the rest of us do. The real world can be a fascinating place if we look hard enough. I’m working on it.

Past worlds

What drives us to slip back in time? Perhaps it’s a lament sewn within our writing: we’re driven underground, undertime, burrowing away from technology, the conditions of our human interactions, the ways or pace of it all. We see light in the peace of the past or in the exotic tumult of it all. It’s this exotic appeal that takes us abroad, away from the home-spun usualness or decay of the now.

Even war and pestilence, and all manner of scrofulous past affairs, are exotically charged. We want to run away because we’re lost. We upgrade our info-ware for convenience, but we downgrade ourselves in time. I would like to write past worlds, if I can find a way around the laborious research.

Future worlds

So we end up in future worlds, sometimes, by default. Anything can happen if it hasn’t happened yet. Future worlds are populated by the writer who has no need of such research, though his writing may well be hugely thought about and extrapolated from the now. Perhaps he researches instead by reverse engineering: working his way backwards to here and now along threads of possibility.

We can get stuck in future worlds because they can be intensely personal. Just like alternate fantasy worlds (though maybe we can call all writerly worlds ‘fantasy worlds’), future worlds spin out and out; they’re just for the writer who gets up every morning immersed in these, not immersed in the delicate art of effectively traversing the bus routes from A to B. If others are lucky, they may catch just a little flavour of these worlds when the writer lets them in. Is it possible to have a future real world? The future now? The future real now? The very near future reality? This is a writing aim.

Alternate worlds

My writing was recently described as being in the realms of ‘alternate poetic realities’. I like this. Thanks, Kirsty. I’m comfortable here because it’s the past, the now, the future, the near future, somewhere, somewhen. When we write alternate worlds we can also get stuck, as with other worlds, or we can create highly individual places, or we can create exotic spaces. Of course, none of it is of the ‘real world’, as such. (Though I do believe that, in other semantic realms, all fiction is ‘real’, all stories are ‘true’, but that’s another story in itself). Perhaps the trick of the light is to try to infuse into the alternate world the real nowness: present the alternate as the possible now, as the actual now, as something other than ‘the otherness’.

I’ve lived in alternate worlds for a while now. Yet, every so often I get that tugging at the sleeve: what if you tried it this way? says the Imp. What if I did? What if I left the alternate poetic reality? What’s the air like out there? What does it taste and smell like? Is it rough or, perhaps, it’s smooth . . .?

Other possible worlds have been playing around inside for a few days now, and I’m wondering where, or when, I’ll soon be.

Unexpectedness and Multiplicity

Writers, if they are worthy of that jealous designation, do not write for other writers. They write to give reality to experience.

— Archibald MacLeish

It is always the unexpected words that please the most. I have my plans, though they don’t always come to fruition. This is the small story of the story that has come, of its own accord. Other plans can wait.

Is it the idea that has taken root first, or the first line, or the outline sketch of a character? I don’t know where this emerging story has come from. What I know is I would like to find out where it is, in the now, the now I write it as. I write here in a pause from writing there. I write here because I have to write whatever I have to write whenever it needs to be written. Now is all we have. I write here, in a pause from writing there, because I’m just waiting, waiting. You know? It’s not a block or an impasse: it’s a point of just sitting back to ‘watch’. I don’t know if this makes sense.

When you’re also a writer, do you go through lines like these . . .? Waking, dull, thinking I need to write but it isn’t strong enough, this writing I have done; sitting, reading, thinking I will write because it is the possibility of something here; writing, immersing, thinking here is something, here this is; pausing, hungry, in a liminal space between this world and the other. You know?

This is why I get this down now. If I move, it falls away.

There are many reasons why novelists write, but they all have one thing in common: a need to create an alternative world.

— John Fowles

There are many worlds. Here ‘amongst’ me there is the world of my assumed reality; there is the world of my creations, taken away by them as I am — albeit slightly removed just here and right now; there is the world of the very here and the very now, in which I wallow or I swim when I concoct on this page (this here is a world, and some version of you meets some version of me in it). We switch between worlds like choosing between books.

It is always the unexpected to please the most: I did not expect these words here to delve into this world, but as I’m here I may as well take a look around. I’m pleased to ‘meet’ you. Which you do I address? A writer may really only address an audience of one (so some of them can be quoted as saying), and here this is you; though which you do I address? Don’t tell me that you don’t see: you’re split down the middle, lengthways, many ways. Which is the ‘real’ you. Some version of me meets some version of you.

I am not a novelist, though I may one day be. I am not a poet, outwardly, though I am truly. I do have a need to write some alternative world, though really I’m not sure why. I do have a need to place the fragments of those worlds down, when they come to me, because if I don’t I lose them, and if I move it all falls away.

A wondrous dream, a fantasy incarnate, fiction completes us, mutilated beings burdened with the awful dichotomy of having only one life and the ability to desire a thousand.

— Mario Vargas Llosa


The Space Beyond the Far Word of the Book

It was the gap between words, between books. It was a time of waiting and a time of holding one’s breath. There comes a point when such acquiescence becomes almost fully stretched: waiting becomes taut. It was this: I was busy in other unnecessary pursuits: pursuits not becoming of the fabric in which words will lay themselves. Perhaps it’s this to cause a draught, and words that might settle are floated away (by my own hand at its other tasks). Tenses start to overlap.

I sat because the time for sitting had just touched me. Here, other unnecessary pursuits can wait, and time in sitting is taut. It has been some fair while now, days since you — dear words — have been here. I have finished writing your sibling down: now, where will you rest with me? I sat stretched, though I sat upright.

Out by night, I find, observing, tells words that I am ready for them. Come find me, I suggest. I take my notebook just in case. Sometimes I’m accosted by wordless people who talk and talk at me. They have words unbecoming of the words I wish to settle on me. They are draughts to waft those words in dust and half-light. I don’t open my notebook here: words won’t land.

One night, that night when the fire blazed and I was left largely to my own devices, I knew the stretch of days was nearly at its end. Words landed of their own accord, just notes but words, on my pages. I closed the covers and, for the hours still to come, I left them wriggling.

It is the evening after the gap between words. With the last book finished, the morning ached. Here she is, this first new piece, at last. I call it ‘she’, though this is just a passing reference. It is no longer the gap between words, between the end of one book and the start of the next: now is the gathering of possibilities. It is the moment after the jump, after the fall, after the start. Here we are, and now the gap is no longer a gap: it is a space in which particles start to swim and swill.

It is the space beyond the farthest word of one book . . .