Tag Archives: Alex Miller

The writer attacks his manuscript

‘This is curious’, said M’sieur Pierre.’ What are these hopes, and who is this saviour?

‘Imagination,’ replied Cincinnatus

Vladimir Nabokov, Invitation to a Beheading

In an email to a friend last year I wrote: “I’m struggling to move my novel forward. It’s giving me a hard time at the moment. But they always make us pay our dues sooner or later. So this is not really unexpected. After all, I’ve been having a good run with it for quite a while. Now for some deeper probing. The problem with the book is my own doing. I can’t bear to take the material for granted; and having written a draft I have to begin questioning it and erasing it. I don’t seem to be able to do it any other way. I’m not as persistent as Giacometti in erasing my works in progress, but I do understand Giacometti’s visceral reluctance to believe in what he had created until it had begun to shine for him with a kind of light that was not his own. Without this sense of surprise about what we have done there is no mystery in what we do. And I happen to agree with the spirit of Lorca’s “only mystery makes us live.” So here I am again this morning attacking what I’ve done so far with this book as if it were the work of my deadly enemy and I were determined to tear it to pieces.’

. . . .

Inspiration, that igniting of the imagination that enables is to write beyond ourselves, so that our work shines for us with a light that is not our own, is most often an inner response to a stimulus from outside, some trivial event that triggers memory and alters our mood. It is the source of Lorca’s mystery. It is what sustains our interest. But when we consciously go in search of inspiration, it stubbornly eludes us. I’ll let Proust have the final word on this:

. . . one knocks at all the doors which lead nowhere, and then one stumbles without knowing it on the only door through which one can enter— which one might have sought in vain for a hundred years – and it opens of its own accord.

 Alex Miller, John Masefield’s Attic, in The Best Australian Essays 2010, ed. Robert Drew (here) 


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On not being able to find words to write

When I took up my pen, however, I was scarcely able to compose the simplest of sentences. I wrote a sentence then crossed it out and sat a while, then wrote another and looked at it. But it too made little sense to me and I crossed it our also. There was a stubborn silence in me that refused to yield up my emotions and my thoughts in words. My subject was closed to me. Why? It was as if my mind—my unconscious, I suppose I must say—had decided that this thing was not to be written but that something else was required from me on this occasion. Not writing, but action. It was not a time for words. But what action lay open to me?             Alex Miller Landscape of Farewell

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