Photographs copyright: DAVID McMAHON
When diXymiss, who writes the blog ineXplicable, challenged me to photograph a blank piece of paper, I immediately went through two or three visual options and thought I would experiment with each of them this weekend.
Then I thought I would take the challenge one step further, for the benefit of writers, artists and anyone with a creative instinct, irrespective of age or geographical location.
I was going to shoot a single sheet of standard white A4 paper when I spotted some of the coloured A4 paper that one of the Authorbloglets was using recently. There was red, there was yellow, there was blue. That's when I decided to take a sheet of the blue paper and stick it on the tray of my HP Photosmart 8230 printer, because I thought the hue would be a perfect match for the colour of the printer.
As I did so, I noticed that the bright winter sunlight was streaming through the windows of my study, throwing a beautiful gradation across the paper. Lucky choice, huh!
I write this in the hope that it might inspire some of you, who in turn will use your experience and your knowledge to guide and mould the aspirations of others, somewhere in the world.
After all, creativity is a two-stage process. First we need to recognise creativity. Next we need to nurture it. Having been blessed throughout my earliest years by people who did precisely that for me, I guess it is now my turn to pass on my thoughts.
How do you look at a blank sheet of paper?
I reckon there are two types of people. The first category are those who are nervous of the challenge presented by a blank piece of paper. And the second category are those who relish the prospect of imprinting their own creative instinct on the paper.
For the benefit of those readers who don’t know me too well, I paint, I sketch, I write and I take photographs. I rub my hands with glee when I see a blank piece of paper.
As a career journalist, I often get asked the question: "What is the most difficult thing to write?" For a tough question, it has a surprisingly easy answer. The most difficult thing to write is an opening sentence. Once you have that in place, everything else will follow.
The opening sentence of my first novel, Vegemite Vindaloo, is a modern twist on one of the most famous lines of Australian poetry. Andrew Barton "Banjo" Paterson wrote "There was movement at the station" as the opening of his wonderful bush ballad The Man From Snowy River. I humbly borrowed it from him and applied it to a contemporary railway station instead.
The opening sentence of my forthcoming novel, Muskoka Maharani, is a pun on a famous quote from Mark Twain. (Nope, I’m not going to tell you what it is, because the novel hasn’t been released yet - but I’m not stopping you from guessing!)
Whether you’re writing a blogpost, working on a novel, creating a sketch or forming a painting, you follow the same process as a builder. Each of those is an ancient art. Each of those is an ancient craft. Each of those is a separate challenge. But just remember this - if your foundation is strong enough, the rest of the structure takes care of itself.
This week I had a long conversation with a very gifted blogger, one of my many friends around the world who is writing a book. She had a major problem. It wasn’t writer’s block. It wasn’t that she had run out of inspiration. But her confidence had been rattled by a well-meaning assessment from someone else. So she went out and bought some how-to-write-novels books and told me she would finish reading them before she resumed writing.
I had some simple advice for her. I told her to mulch the books in one of her many immaculate garden beds.
Why would I tell her something like that? Not because I don’t trust how-to books. Don’t get me wrong. They’re always a valuable resource. But I knew that she didn’t need to be told how to write. You see, I’ve read enough of her writing over the past year to know that she is a wonderful writer.
I didn’t want her to try and write a novel from a contrived point of view, or from someone else’s point of view. Instead, I wanted her to follow her own instincts.
Spontaneity is a great gift for any creative person. And this friend of mine is so good that she doesn’t need to be told how to project her story.
In short, there is only one person who can tell your story/ paint your picture/ take your photograph. One person alone. And that’s you.
Trust your creative instinct. Put your first mark on a blank sheet of paper. You’ll be surprised at how wonderful an experience it is.
Write with freedom. Write with honesty. But most of all, write with joy.