Thursday, October 7, 2010

The Right to Write

On the rare occasions I admit to normal people that I write a bit now and then one of the most common responses (once they stop laughing) is along the lines of - God, I wish I could do that. You’re so lucky to have that talent.
            This bugs me for three reasons. First - Why are you telling God, I’m right here!
            Second - I’m not special. People who write aren’t special in any way. We just choose to put in the time. It’s an option open to anyone. It belittles both of us to suggest I am in some way ‘blessed’ while you are not. Shoosh!
            Third (which is just a variant on second) - How do you know you can’t? Have you ever tried?

It’s a nonsense to suggest you have to be good at something to do it. I’m rubbish at pool, shite at relationships and a terrible drunk, doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy attempting all three. You should see the state of some of the guys I know when they try to play football.
            Writing is just like anything else. If you like it, do it. Okay, maybe not anything else, I’m not advocating investment banking or the pillage of coastal villages here, but if it’s legal and you fancy a try, go for it.
            No one who writes got permission first. Most of us are pretty bad at it, too. Doesn’t stop us.
            There are several things I do in life secure in the knowledge that I’ll never make a living from them - writing is way down the list on that score. I know I’ll make no cash ever from annoying my dog, annoying my sisters, annoying my sisters’ children, talking bollocks with my friends, playing the guitar, taking the piss out of anyone I think can take it without going in a huff, watching a great movie, being far too anal about all things comic and sci-fi related, cooking a good cottage pie, arsing about on Facebook, paying over the odds for wine in Oddbins cos the girl who works there is pretty, arguing with my mum about the existence of God, eating my mum’s home made steak-pie while we argue about the existence of God, helping my dad with his computer related issues, using my dad’s computer related issues as an excuse to hang around with him, moaning about my job or eating fish suppers. None of these things will ever be my career, just as writing won’t. I still intend to continue doing every damn one of them for as long as I can.

There are a thousand reasons to write, and trying to get published is only one.
The act of writing is the thing, not the end result. It doesn’t matter if it’s fiction, a diary, a few scribbles over lunch or a massive brain-spill of vitriol in the evening after a day of work/family/lack of work/lack of family related stress.
            Writing is good for you, fact (if you need proof email me and I’ll invent some statistics). If you’re like my mum and believe in the soul, it’s good for that. If you’re like me and believe in steak-pie, it’s good for the cholesterol.
            Putting words on paper, or typing words on virtual paper, is one of the most satisfying and stress relieving activities available to us. It’s like lucid dreaming, but much easier.
            That bastard of a boss/colleague/smug twat you hate at work - write about him/her. Turn them into a demon and vanquish them. Smite that fucker all the way to Hell with words. It doesn’t matter if they’re crap words, you’ll still feel better, I guarantee it.
            The swine who cut you up on the motorway this morning? Write down what you wish you’d been able to say to them had you not been more concerned with avoiding a major pile-up at the time.
            The things you wish you’d had time to say to someone you’ve lost - say them. Write them down. It doesn’t matter if no one else ever reads them. By writing them, you’ve finally said them. Those words now exist, physically. You have no idea how much better you’ll feel for doing it.

 I know a man aged eighty-three, the single sweetest person I think I’ve ever met. This man has not had troubles to seek in his life. Problems, obstacles and tragedies I can barely imagine, he’s faced with humour and dignity. A few years ago he wrote down the story of his life. He didn’t do it because he wants to be an author, but rather because he thought it might make an interesting memento for his children and grandchildren when he’s no longer able to tell the stories himself. His daughter has taken on the task of typing up his work in order to have a couple of copies printed and bound, purely for the family to treasure. The satisfaction he gets from knowing his funny, heartbreaking and ultimately optimistic adventures will remain in existence long into the future is obvious to see whenever the subject is raised.

Writing purely for yourself is also a valid therapeutic pursuit. Many non-medical therapies are based around ‘talking’, but not everyone feels either the ability or need to go down that route. An alternative option is to write. Just write whatever comes into your head for, say, three pages every day. You don’t even have to go back and reread what you’ve written - indeed it’s often advisable not to. But the process of writing down what’s clogging up your brain can be an invaluable way of de-cluttering your thoughts.

If you fancy a go at writing fiction, go for it. Do it because you enjoy it though, not because you think it’s a viable career option - the truth is, it isn’t for the vast majority of us. No, do it because it’s a brilliant way to spend some time. Making stuff up is great fun, but it’s one of the first things we lose to adulthood. Writing fiction is a way of rediscovering the simple joy of creating stories and characters for our own entertainment, instead of letting the television do it for us.
            You may choose to tackle the climb up the hellish, corpse-strewn mountain at the summit of which stands the ‘ultimate goal’ of publication, and good luck to you if you do, I hope you get there. But if that’s the only reason you write I’d advise you to stop now, pack up your kit and begin the abseil back to firmer ground (either that or become a journalist) because you’re doing it for all the wrong reasons. Even if you make it to the top, be aware that there’s another, just as hellish, just as corpse-strewn edifice waiting for you called ‘getting enough people to buy it so you can have another go’.

Writing takes so much time that to do it for any reason other than the process gives you something you lacked - fun, perspective, a ‘release’, clarity - seems to me to be pretty daft. And, unless you choose to go for publication, the end result is far less important than the act itself.

Before you ask, the reason I, and others presumably, write for WWJ, given that there’s definitely no cash in it, is because it’s fun. Simple as that. For me there’s also the added bonus that I rarely know what I actually think about anything until I’ve written it down and had an argument with myself. Which is also fun, especially when I win. Plus Jane would shout at me if I didn’t.

So stop thinking you have to be a writer, whatever that is, to get anything from writing. Writing is a playground, a therapist’s couch, a chance to be yourself, an opportunity to stop being yourself, a way of saying the things you didn’t at the time, a way to put old spectres to rest and a tool to help you sort out the mess in your head. Best of all, it’s free and no one else ever has to know about it if you don’t want them to.
            Try it. You never know, it might take.

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