A few years ago, I decided to volunteer at a major writing festival. One of the perks of volunteering is that once you’ve checked attendees’ tickets, you then get to pull up stumps yourself. Once, I was lucky enough to man the door of a craft workshop lead by a local Sci-Fi/Fantasy author. Once all the attendees were settled in, I took my own seat at the back of the room, pad and pen at the ready. Our host went through the usual introductions, including the twists and turns of their own publishing journey. Clicking open their PowerPoint, our host then began to talk about why they chose to become a writer. They said that figuring out ‘why’ you want to be a writer will help keep you motivated on days when it feels like nothing is happening.
As I sat there listening, I wholeheartedly agreed. I think it is important for a writer to know ‘why’ he/she would rather craft an imaginary world than wander the real streets of this one. I believe that knowing your ‘whys’ will help you stick with this time-consuming, unneeded, work. Naturally, I hoped that the host would share their ‘whys’ with us. And they did. Now, to be honest, five points appeared on the screen, but I can only remember two:
2) Give up my day job
Now props to this host for being honest, but gees. I was expecting something a little more a) realistic and b) philosophical. Some people reading this blog may think this host was a member of the Millennial/celebrity obsessed/instant gratification Generation. They weren’t. Now, to be fair this author had published several books and essays and they were leading a workshop at a major festival. Clearly their ‘whys’ were working for them.
Personal judgements aside, the exercise of figuring out the ‘whys’ behind our creative practice (or anything really) is valuable. Now obviously, like the host of the above mentioned workshop, I can’t talk about this topic without sharing my own ‘whys’.
1) Writing is interesting
One of the main reasons why I write is because it’s interesting. You are constantly having to make decisions about your plot, characters and structure. You need to ask yourself important questions like: has this become predictable? Is this entertaining? Does it read ‘real’? Is my character consistent? Is my dialogue working on multiple levels? And on and on. You can use books as an enjoyable form of escapism, or you can go deeper; looking between the lines to see the author’s ‘true’ message. Writing a novel is the same. First you have the surface story, beneath that you have the work’s philosophical exploration and beneath that you have the basic craft of writing: good sentences, carefully chosen words, poetic prose and vivid images.
2) You only get better
If I were to open one of my own short stories from a year ago, I would cringe. I would then go into a mild panic thinking about all the people I sent this hunk of pretentious crap to. I would be deeply mortified by my lousy sentences, my cliché characters and predictable plot. But then, I would think, ‘I would never write something like this now.’
You only get better with time and practice. You only get better by reading and paying attention to what you are reading. You only get better by trying your best every time you apply some ass-glue to your chair and open your ‘Novel’ file.
You only get better.
3) You get to make people feel something
I assume that we have all, at some point, heard a song lyric or read a passage in the book that made us stop and say, ‘That’s exactly how I would have described it if I’d had the words.’ Other times we come across gems that force us to see a topic in a whole new light, or bring a subject to our attention we’ve somehow ignored. Then there is the poetic prose that can skirt past our intellect and go straight to our guts. A line that is both true and beautifully written. A line that brings comforts; that melts the edges of our being. A line you can recite because it felt important enough to memorise. How great would be if you can write something that could make someone feel that?
So, there it is. My ‘whys’. No fame, no fortune, but it works – for me.
Image: Why by Vitor Fiacadori