Wednesday, February 9, 2011
Why do we write?
Why do we spend our lives tapping away at our computers and daydreaming about the worlds and characters we create? Why do we eavesdrop on conversations on public transport, hoping to hear something strange and unexpected? Why, in the middle of a heated argument with someone, is there aways a detached part of our brains making notes for dialogue later? What are we trying to achieve? Why do we write?
It's sure as hell not for the money, the fame or the respect. I think that any of us who have been slogging away at writing for a while just want some modest success to show for our labours - although obviously the Booker Prize would also be nice. Is that a trophy or a plaque? Because if it's a trophy I'll need to clear some space on my desk.
I know why I write. It's because I'd go insane if I didn't, as simple as that. In another life I'd be an obsessive hand-washer, but this time around I'm stuck with the crazy compulsion to create stories and characters. It's a whole other thing that I am trying to take it to the next level and get published. That's just my stubbornness.
I was a very stubborn child.
When I was three I refused to speak to my father’s boss, despite all his efforts to bribe me. I glared instead. My campaign of terror was working well until I got distracted at the bank Christmas party. I thought my mother was still standing behind me, and turned around in mid-conversation to find myself face to face with the man. I talked to him for the rest of the night because I knew when I’d lost the fight, and we had a lot of catching up to do by then.
Whenever my sister Kath organised the whole tribe of neighbourhood kids into regimented games it was always me who started the mutiny by wandering off. Just because it annoyed her.
When I was five I refused to go to school and a high school girl had to hold me down on the bus while I kicked and screamed and Kath pretended not to know me – I didn’t want to go because I had better things to do.
When I was fifteen I wagged school regularly, because Maths was boring, and went to university with Kath instead. Does it count as truancy if you’re getting a higher education? My school thought so.
My stubbornness extended to writing. It may have actually started me writing. I’ve been writing since, well, before I can remember. Just like I don’t remember a time when I couldn’t read – I’m not saying I was a prodigy, just that I have a bad memory – I don’t remember a time when I didn’t write. If I didn’t like the way a story ended, I wrote my own. Just because I could. And I never looked back.
Writing is catharsis. It is free therapy. It is comfort food and drugs all at once. It's how I psych up for a bad day. It's how I wind down at the end of one. It's the freedom to ask all the difficult questions in the world, and to have a go at answering them at the same time. You're allowed to be a bit strange if you write. You're allowed to see things differently. You're allowed to bastardise all the interesting bits of your life, and anyone else's, and twist them into something shiny and new. And maybe, if you're lucky enough and stubborn enough, maybe one day other people will get to open the covers of your book and discover something wonderful as well.
That's why I write. What about you?