Why We WritePosted: November 20, 2013
As is becoming predictable my title is somewhat disingenuous. I have no idea why ‘we’ write. You might write because the purple monkey people living in your shed say you have to or they’ll eat the rakes – that’s your business. I’m musing on why I write and just wanted an excuse to plug Eisenhower’s famous speech in the opening paragraph (if you’re saying eh? Then type ‘Why We Fight’ into YouTube and then watch it, it will change your understanding of the world you live in).
Anyhow. Why I Write.
I write for selfish reasons. I write because only through the exercise of sorting, arranging and processing my lived experiences into a coherent text can I give those experiences emotional meaning within the context of the world around me. I write to bring order to my own personal chaos, order that I cannot impose without it.
That, at least, was the sum of the motivation when I kept a diary for a few years in university. Those were turbulent times in which my view of the world around me was, quite literally, distorted by mental illness and the medications that accompanied it. Writing in that diary kept me grounded far more effectively than the pills ever could and even now I go back to the black and blue books and remember who I was then. I open a window on the past and see how far I have come, and in other ways, how much I have forsaken. In the heady days of the mid 90’s I was an anti-war protesting, French goods boycotting, depressed, self harming bundle of confusion and writing helped.
Back then it was enough to address myself – indeed the idea that another might read it was anathema. Now, the emphasis of my writing has shifted to that of an address to a third person. In a very real way, although I am still writing for my own selfish reasons, I am writing for you. I no longer find catharsis or even meaning in simply addressing myself. Now I must have an audience for the mental and emotional ordering to occur, or at least I must have the possibility of an audience. It does not matter if the work is read, only that it could be read. Providing that possibility is in play the peculiar magic of the word upon my turbid thoughts can commence.
My experience of topic selection is pretty much subconscious. In response to the increasingly intrusive pressings of the world around me I find myself, both my muscles and my brain, becoming increasingly taut – as though a well-equipped musician might be able to reach into me and pluck my thoughts and tendons to create a melody, or at least a musical Discordia. And then (you can start sentences with ‘And’ by the way, your teachers lied) as if released from deep below the roiling sea of my thoughts I feel something rising, something huge, displacing all else as it rises from the sea bed and breaks the surface with a slow majesty. It is a topic. It is fully formed and, like some keystone of the psyche, I know that if I resolve the topic into text the others antagonists will find themselves destabilised and I will attain a measure of peace. It is possible not to address a topic until eventually it re-sinks but it is never possible to ignore one whilst it’s there on the surface.
To address a topic I must work fast. Its hammer and chisel time as I edge above and around it, cutting away the dross that isn’t needed and exposing as best I can the perfect shape of the words locked within. Walk away from the keyboard, put down the pen and the whole thing can stale or even sink and never again merit reading. I am driven, I type fast and with unusual deftness. I do not go back and edit, editing comes later, editing is what you do to pretty up the flaws you introduced into the finished piece – I’m making the piece itself now and it has to be raw. The topic could be the death of millions, the topic could be a children’s story, or a day out at the zoo but the first cuts are the same. I will only find truth if I’m working fast and I will only find beauty through luck and accident.
Everything else is faff.
When all is done, when the words are there and masquerading as the thing that the topic wanted to free, there is calm. Not just the calm of a single issue resolved but an all encompassing calm of spirit that envelopes and analgises every stressor. We are back to the serene baseline lake for all too short a time before things once again start to build and as before we uneasily scan the horizon for a surfacing behemoth to address.