At the weekend, I went to the Gerhard Richter exhibition at Tate Modern. I was blown away, not only by the richness and variation of his work, but also his methodology: sometimes planned and ordered, sometimes random – sometimes both. It made me think long and hard about the way I write, and it occurred to me that the one quality all his work had, however it was generated, was confidence. Here is a man who knows what he is capable of and who is not afraid to experiment and take risks, but at the same time is very definite about what he has to say. Whatever image he ends up with, his voice is always loud and clear.
It made me realise that confidence is the most important item in the writer’s toolbox. With confidence, you can write what you like and how you like, instead of slavishly following a formula. Confidence, of course, comes with experience, but the danger there is that one becomes complacent instead of pushing the boundaries. Something that Richter was clearly never afraid to do. And that is when genius emerges: when talent and confidence and craft combine with risk.
I’m going to throw away the rule book for the next month. Forget about inciting incidents, character arcs, reveals, back stories and just see what happens. After all, any good storyteller will instinctively shape a strong narrative, but it’s all too easy to get bogged down in following the check list peddled by the myriad creative writing gurus out there. Is it any wonder that the fiction charts have been accused of becoming cynically formulaic, when everyone is singing from the same song sheet?
It will be like going on a journey without the sat nav. I can’t wait to see where I end up.