I went to see ‘The King’s Speech’ at the cinema last week. Leaving aside the excellence of the performances, the film set me thinking about how many ways it is possible to get stuck while trying to communicate.
I don’t know very much about what can cause a stutter; but the implications of the movie were that there are both psychological and physical aspects, which are most likely different for each sufferer.
To be honest, I wasn’t much interested in the cod psychological explanations for George VI’s problem that were offered by the film; it was sufficiently clear that standing over him and shouting ‘Spit it out, boy,’ wasn’t going to help him speak fluently, nor indeed would cigarette smoke relax his throat.
The interesting thing about the story was the relationship as portrayed between King and therapist, and the apparent silliness of some of the exercises used in the therapy.
What was very striking, and moving, was that even at the end of all the speech therapy sessions, the King was not cured; instead all that had been achieved was that he had been equipped with techniques to overcome the worst of the barriers that afflicted him. Along with all the fresh air and breathing exercises he learnt ways to trick himself into enunciating problematic consonants, singing some phrases, leaping into the K of king from a springboard of a short a before it; thus, a-king.
There are surely parallels in trying to force out written words when you feel constrained or fearful that it’s not going to go well. Maybe I have to trick myself by finding the right little springboard. The blank page requires a first sentence, by applying the pressure of thinking that first sentence has to make exactly the right impact I can render myself incapable; maybe the best place to start is in the middle, and write around the centre from there.
So I started drafting this blog post here.
In a different life, some years ago, I had to attend a course in process management. The only thing I remember about it was a quick case study illustrated with comical little sketches.
There is a bottling line in a factory; the penultimate step in the process is the placing of a metal cap on each bottle. Every fourth lid comes out of the machine crooked. What is the best way to address the problem?
Option 1: Assign a man to stand beside the conveyor belt, equip him with a hammer and instruct him to bang each of the crooked tops until it is straight.
Option 2: Stop the machine, find out why it is malfunctioning on every fourth bottle, and fix it.
On the day, you’ll be unsurprised to learn that the correct answer did not involve the man with a hammer. I’ve often thought of this analogy when I’ve watched people do things in a way that I, from my rather superior vantage point, have thought was particularly inefficient.
But I am on the verge of discarding it as an appropriate metaphor for writing. Sometimes it might be unhelpful to go back and try to fix everything from the beginning; it might be better to develop a few quick and dirty techniques for dealing with the lumps and bumps in the early drafts, and stop worrying about it.
Either that, or stand back for a moment and admire the crookedness of the caps.