Charlotte Wood’s classic guide to ‘Creativity, Resilience and the Inner Life’, THE LUMINOUS SOLUTION (Allen and Unwin 2021) is a book that every creator and artist should read, whether they are painting, writing, sculpting or composing. It is not a book about writing craft so much as it is a holistic approach to creativity, how to overcome hurdles and how to be kind to ourselves in a world where the making of art, or even the art itself, is often misunderstood.

This book was published a few years ago but it will never go out of style or be irrelevant. Wood is such a thoughtful and considered writer and thinker; she is curious and smart, funny and compassionate, hungry to learn and eager to improve, encouraging and generous with her praise for others. Chapters include Fertile Ground (Nourishing the Inner Life), The Getting of Wisdom (Finding Your Own Teachers), The Grumpy Struggle, Despair and the Luminous Solution (Nine Kinds of Creative Thinking), Unconscious Bias (The Dreaming Mind), Take an Object (How Art can Transfigure Hatred), Strange Bedfellows (The Lady, the Unicorn and The Natural Way of Things), Letting in the Light (Sharing Unfinished Work: Risks and Joys), Cat and Baby (On Intuition vs Pragmatism), An Element of Lightness (Laughter as a Creative Force), The Paint Itself (The World Inside a Sentence), Reading Isn’t Shopping (Why Creativity Needs Disturbance), The Outside Voice (In Praise of Unruly Artists), Afraid of the Dark (Anger as Creative Fuel), On Gods and Ghosts (Catholicism, Contradiction and Creativity), Between a  Wolf and a Dog (Georgia Blain’s Final Work), Useful, Pleasurable, Strange (Growing Old as an Art Form) and The Rapture (Nature and the Artist).

I guarantee something in that list will appeal!

Rather than a traditional book review, I thought I’d note some of the passages I underlined or marked during my reading. These are from random chapters and don’t necessarily relate to each other but they are lines or words that caught my eye enough for me to want to come back to them.

‘…many writers say every new book sends them back to bewilderment but it took me a long time to realise that, despite its inherent anxieties, this horrible state of unknowing was not a sign that things were going badly, but rather indicated that I was on the right track. Philip Roth described this as ‘looking for trouble’. Real problems arose, he said, ‘not because the writing is difficult, but because it isn’t difficult enough. Fluency can be a sign that nothing is happening…while being in the dark from sentence to sentence is what convinces me to go on.’

‘Competence is the enemy of art’ (Michelle de Kretser).

‘I seek out instruction because the danger is not that my well-oiled way of working might be disrupted; it’s that it might never be disrupted again.’

‘Must I always know nothing?’

‘Problem-finding’ (as opposed to problem-solving)

‘The power or energy coming from…the work… ‘goodness, movement, life, urgency, spark, ignition’.

‘Going deeper…forcing unlikely things together … which often leads to a new, quite natural connection …plausible connections I’ve not noticed before.’

‘Necessary, profound discoveries about a work can come, then, from returning to the material and reworking it, revising and writing again, until a missing connection or a new development suddenly appears.’

‘Disrupting or overturning … a more conscious method, of opposition, in which an artist deliberately disrupts or ‘messes up’ existing work so as to create movement or change, or to provoke a revelation of meaning.’

‘When in doubt, do violence to the page.’

Being ‘actively passive…a writer waits.’

‘To make something beautiful…to make something truthful…to make use of what you have and who you are…to make, at all…it enlarges, does not diminish.’

Iris Murdoch: ‘…paying attention is a moral act. To write truthfully is to honour the luck and the intricate detail of being alive.’

‘Take an object. Do something to it. Do something else to it.’

‘…the feeling of discomfort and compulsion together…(is) a potent mix that often ends up generating raw material for fiction.’

‘If someone is encouraging about a certain aspect of a work in progress, newer writers in particular, yet to develop strong artistic instincts, are at risk of wandering away from their own obscure and difficult (but true) path to go sniffing after the scent of that early reader’s praise.’

‘It can create blankness in the self, an inability to discern the worth of one’s own work even at a sentence level without outside help.’

‘…the artist’s most important muscles: fortitude, astute self-critique and perseverance…’

‘It takes guts to ask for a deep reading of and critical response to unfinished work, especially if one then decides to reject that response entirely.’

‘Praise…is about energy and ideas…(drawing) an artist out of fugitive self-defence and into a sense of abundance and willingness to risk…any praise provides only the smallest counterweight to their own savage fear and self-criticism.’

‘It’s not just the giver who gets to be generous; the gracious acceptance of the gift is an act of generosity in return.’

‘Once you’ve sent it into the world it doesn’t belong to you anymore, and its audience has as much right to its interpretation as you do to your intention.’

‘We need humility to accept that our work reveals things about us that we may not like, but if they are true, we must let them stand.’

‘I am not like others, and all I have to offer are my own perceptions.’

‘…a manuscript can be changed by painstaking work at the level of the sentence, the word.’

‘Usually what I do not want to hear is: There is a great deal more work to do…but every artist has to learn the difference between reasonable adjustment and fatal capitulation.’

‘It’s all delusion, until it’s not.’

‘Writing against the grain of one’s existing beliefs or instincts or knowledge often causes a sudden surge in energy that can reframe and inform and charge whole works with surprising new authority.’

‘…five essential elements: clarity, authority, energy, musicality and flair.’

‘The difficult task (Sarah) Sentilles sets us about ethics is ‘to learn to live with, and protect, what we can’t understand’.’

‘…some flowering of a greater range of possibility for thought, for experience, that could only come from the struggle itself.’

‘…it’s the difficulty itself that shines.’

‘Feral: untamed and wild, escaped from domestication, damaging to the status quo, destructive, invasive, unruly, disobedient. For a female artist, what’s not to love?’

‘Social rejection, it turns out, promotes imaginative thought…it means releasing yourself from the desire to make people like you.’

‘Writers do go on a lot about shame.’

‘This is what art does, this is where it lives: in the uncomfortable, often lonely space between one certainty and another.’

If, like me, these phrases capture your imagination and fuel your creativity and you would like more of this incredible inspiration and encouragement, buy or borrow this book, and seek out your own stand-out sentences that hold special power for you. Whether you are an emerging writer or an established author, The Luminous Solution is a beacon of light in the oft dark nights of an artist’s soul. A book I will return to again and again.