As a teenager, one of my favourite books was Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale. It’s a dystopian story set in a world where women are progressively disenfranchised and reduced to the status of servants. This is achieved by freezing all of their bank accounts and charge cards. One day they can access the automatic teller machine and the next day they can’t. It’s as simple as that.
Atwood has written a new book with a similar theme called The Heart Goes Last. This book tells the story of a struggling couple who take up an offer of working in an experimental prison where people spend half their time as guards and half their time as prisoners. It’s a fantastic piece of writing in the true sense of the word. The novel also features sex robots called ‘prostibots’.
In an interview with the author, she says that she always has lots of ideas about what to write and that she usually chooses the most outlandish idea to focus on. Not because she wants to make it hard for herself, just because she likes a challenge.
She says that people without ideas shouldn’t write.
I found this a bit confronting as I’m always worried about not having ideas, but I don’t really think the problem is not having ideas, it’s more about convincing yourself that an idea is stupid before you’ve even started exploring it. I’m pretty good at talking myself out of things. It’s less risky that actually doing something because no-one can criticise your work if you don’t produce anything.
The problem is not lack of imagination, it’s lack of confidence.
What people seem to need most coaching about in the area of creativity is not ‘optimizing’ their imaginations—it’s their confidence. And that’s because we’ve been brainwashed into thinking that we are all specialists of some kind, and that you can’t really be a writer unless you’ve got something like a master’s degree. Obviously, we want dentists to be trained, but writing is human storytelling and everybody does it.
This really leaves me with nowhere to go in the excuse department. There’s no reason not to write. There’s no reason not to begin. It’s all about starting isn’t it?