Balancing the rational and the creative

Friday, October 20, 2017
Amanda Apthorpe interviewed by Amy Adeney

Amanda Apthorpe headshot
Amanda Apthorpe

Finding time to write is a choice, says tutor Amanda Apthorpe. Ahead of her upcoming workshop, we talked to Amanda about how to take control of our writing lives.

In your upcoming course, participants will learn what we really mean by ‘writer’s block’ and how to abolish it – is this something you go through in your own writing process?

Those experiences that might be labelled ‘writer’s block’: staring at the page with pen poised above the notebook, or fingers poised above the keys; when the whole idea of writing something worthy of the effort just seems to have disappeared, are not something I go through in my own writing process because I don’t really believe in the term. I think it’s used to comfort us, as though it exists outside our control. Writing is in our control - it’s just a matter of whether we execute that or not.

Recently, I had an experience akin to it and I wondered if I was wrong; I just couldn’t seem to get going on the novel I was working on. After some heavy-browed introspection I came to understand, reluctantly, that I was not ready for that novel. It would have its time in the future, but now wasn’t it. Another idea had blossomed and, when I gave it the room to grow, it took off at a rapid rate. 

You say that writers need to let go of the idea that they need to be inspired before they can write –  what advice can you offer writers who are struggling to get to the point where their writing creates its own momentum?

Start writing and write regularly. This might sound obvious and too simple, but it’s important in gaining momentum. In the workshop I’ll explore strategies to get moving and stay moving towards the completion of the project, drawing on the inspiration that surrounds us all the time. 

You have said that the guiding principle in your life is “to find balance, in particular, between rational and creative modes of thinking” – how do you feel that your ‘rational’ background in science teaching has impacted your creative life?

Both of my published novels explore the actual or potential interface between the rational and the creative or intuitive. In ‘Whispers in the Wiring’ it was neuroscience meets moments of heightened religious experience; faith and atheism. In ‘A Single Breath’ it was western medicine meets myth. For me, the process of addressing these themes is like a to-ing and fro-ing between the brain’s hemispheres until they settle somewhere in the middle where I feel a balance.

The management of time to enable me to write is built on both rational and creative processes that I will discuss in the workshop. Once I’m in, the creative takes over.

You have also worked as a yoga instructor – do you use yoga or mindfulness practice as part of your creative process?

Having been a practitioner of yoga for over forty years now, I feel that one of the side-effects - an ability to focus, to concentrate quickly, means that there is a quick absorption into the work when I sit down to write. Of course this is enhanced by the techniques that I will talk about in the workshop. Certainly pranayama (breathing) techniques calm the nervous system and asana (postures) and relaxation take me to ‘my core’. That’s not a bad place to be writing from!

With social media intensifying the pressure to be constantly connected, and the pace of life seemingly faster than ever, do you feel that writers are finding it increasingly difficult to find productive time to write?

Finding time to write is a choice. There are spaces in the day, and there are ways to create more. We negotiate our schedules all the time - to fit in another work demand, to have lunch with a friend who’s in town, an extra trip to the gym (or yoga class). Unfortunately, when it comes to writing, and perhaps because it can feel a bit ‘self-indulgent’, we put it off. There’s something a bit delicious and scary too about becoming absorbed in it. How will that basket of washing get done if I write instead? It’s a matter of lifting its profile in your priorities and having an understanding about how important writing is, or might be, to you. That, and not crippling yourself with the rather daunting prospect of having to spend hours of your day/week/year doing it. While working a full-time job, raising a family and having a social and relaxing life, I managed to complete two Masters degrees, two novels and most of my PhD. Most of that was done in a café opposite the station before I went to work.

It can be done, and it can be hard work, but it’s such a great pleasure - this writing thing. It deserves your time.

About Amanda Apthorpe

Amanda Apthorpe is a published author and teacher of creative writing and holds an MA and PhD in creative writing from The University of Melbourne. She has presented at writing conferences in Wellington (2014) and London (2015, 2016) and her paper on time management and finding voice was published in 2015. Amanda’s novel 'Whispers in the Wiring' was published in 2011 and her second novel, 'A Single Breath', was published in September 2015.

About Amy Adeney

Amy Adeney is a Writers Victoria intern. She is a primary teacher and founder of Busy Bookworms, a bookclub for preschoolers.