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Donvé Lee

@ Sunday Times Books LIVE

Helen, do I have to?

I’ve always loved making things that weren’t there before.

In my previous life, which ended when I left Johannesburg to settle in Cape Town in 96, I was a relatively successful painter. In my heart I still paint, and I process the world largely through my eyes. I fantasize about making art again with paint, paper, textures, colour, light and shadow, but I have two novelish works-in-progress which I dare not abandon. If I don’t continue to nurture them, I fear they may shrivel up and die. I wish I could be a painter and a writer at the same time. So far, I haven’t managed to juggle the two.

I’m a creature of extremes. I used to be a furiously fast painter, now I’m a sickeningly slow writer. Perhaps because my first medium, watercolour, demanded speed – take too long and you end up with mud – I’d finish a large painting in a few hours. But I felt vaguely fraudulent. What would it be like, I wondered, to spend years creating a single work of art?

Huh. It’s harrowing. I agonize over the precise position of a word. I lie awake at night rearranging and recrafting and rehearsing the rhythm of a sentence. All this painstaking perfectionism is quite perverse, I’ve graduated from fraudulent to masochistic. I used to suspect that no other writers on the planet shared my tragic flaw – they all seem to spew out finely crafted prose at an obscenely rapid rate – until I read an interview with an author in The Paris Review (I can’t remember who) and learnt that she, thankfully, suffered from the same miserable condition. Every fifteen years or so, she produces a book. A good one. I’m so relieved to know that I’m not alone.

So now you know. I find the writing process excruciating. Yet I continue, doggedly dragging word after word out of my tortured self.

Why are you such a masochist? This from my running partner, after listening to my latest whinge as we coax our tired legs up our favourite hill. Dunno, I mumble, maybe it has something to do with making myself concrete on the page.

Maybe its because when the words finally begin to sing, I’m in heaven.

And now, after so many years of struggling to carve chunks of unruly sentences into the shape of a novel (I refuse to say how many years) my beloved editor prizes the manuscript out of my fingers, then insists that I start blogging about it!

Helen, do I have to? Can’t I just sit back and watch? Or better still, run away and hide

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Recent comments:

  • <a href="" rel="nofollow">Liesl</a>
    September 7th, 2010 @13:00 #

    Welcome, Donvé,

    You're in good company. Ingrid Winterbach is another painter/writer. I'm a musician/writer. I'm sure there are lots of writers who are creative in other dimensions. I think it always enriches one's writing if there's an alternate vision of the world informing it.

  • <a href="" rel="nofollow">Ingrid Andersen</a>
    Ingrid Andersen
    September 7th, 2010 @13:33 #

    Liesl makes a good point. Likewise - I have many kinds of creative outlets - mostly visual - beyond that of words. The interaction between the different media opens spaces for richer, more complex creativity.

    But each has its own pace and its own means of expression :-)

  • <a href="" rel="nofollow">Helen</a>
    September 7th, 2010 @13:41 #

    Dear Donve! I feel a brute (not really). Alas, the awful reality of writing a book is that unless you're happy to let it blush unseen on desert air, you have to trumpet news of it abroad. But the good news is that writing about writing itself can be first illuminating, then increasingly fascinating, esp when it becomes a dialogue with other writers. Now that you have endured the editing sans anaesthetic with only the faintest peep or two, I promise that this stage is easier.

    PS: Heartily agree with Liesl's point. Ingrid Wolfaardt is another painter/writer, so is Richard de Nooy. Writer Sarah Britten does spectacular compositions in lipstick. Sarah Lotz earned her living with a paintbrush before turning to writing. I have twelve years of music training under my belt. Etc.

  • Donv Lee
    September 7th, 2010 @20:08 #

    Thanks writerly friends, for your comments and words of welcome. I'm finding this new public space quite daunting, I'm wondering how people manage to have a life outside of facebook and twitter and booksa...

  • alida.spies@
    September 7th, 2010 @23:28 #

    Hey Donve if you write like this Blog, the book is going to be great. Don't go into hiding, hold your head up high. You are going to be so proud of it once it is out. I also admire your courage to do what you believe you have to. You are going to be an inspiration to others - me at least.


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