Sunday, 24 February 2013

Magic Eye

Until a few years ago, odd-looking photographs used to appear in the Melbourne Sunday paper we bought every weekend. They were 'Magic Eye' pictures and, if you wanted to see them properly, you had to do something with your eyes that it wasn't possible to explain - or even to do at will really. It involved relaxing in some odd way and changing your focus from its normal setting. It didn't involve thinking. It wasn't something you could follow a set of instructions to achieve.

It seems to me that writing is a bit like that - and therefore trying to teach it as a craft skill may be a bit of a waste of time. In my experience, the happiest moments of writing happen at exactly the moment when all the normal bits of your mind start letting go and functioning outside their usual parameters. It's not something you can make a decision to achieve. Rather, it's something you actually have to forget you want to do.

Which I suppose means that creative writing courses may be useful, provided they force people to write so much, so fast and so furiously that their thoughts transcend self-conscious anxieties and the usual frantic scrabbling and reach a point that is beyond dogged concentration, beyond the stage where a sense of control or order - or really almost anything conscious - remains in the students' minds.

At that point, in a shift as mystifying as the moment when the hidden world contained within a Magic Eye picture suddenly leaps out at the viewer, students may find, inexplicably, that their writing flows easily. In both processes, the trick is not mastery of oneself but the ability to lose control and let go. In both, the experience is a very odd one - a sensation that goes against almost everything we've ever been taught to do.

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