In the lead-up to National Young Writers’ Month (NYWM) in June this year, I was asked, along with the other NYWM ambassadorial folk, to share my perspectives on ‘Why I Write’ on the NYWM blog. Unfortunately, the servers behind NYWM were hacked and much was lost. It was still an awesome month though. Recently, I realised I still had a copy of my NYWM blog post saved on my hard drive. I thought I should give it a new home online here, because I thought it was pretty solid , still relevant to me and hopefully relevant to others. Enjoy!
When asked to write a piece outlining Why I Write, I admit to being somewhat intimidated. You see, when I start asking myself ‘why do I write?’, I’m not asking why I write to-do lists or job applications. It makes me think more about why I do the writing that writers do. You know, stirring poetry, piercing essays, mindblowing novels. The craft, the art, nothing but you, the words and your readers.
And then the doubt sets in. What can my scribbles and typings amount to? What am I doing? Why do I write?
It’s a tricky one, because when you ask yourself that, you’re forced to assess yourself, your ability and value as a writer and all sorts of knotty things, and then you start comparing yourself to all those who’ve gone before you with their own thoughts under the same title: George Orwell, Joan Didion, Stephen Elliot and many more I’m sure.
So if you don’t want to give up before beginning, it can help to come at things from a different angle. If I’m going to get anywhere with my writing, I need to acknowledge and address my shortcomings. So rather than explain Why I Write, I’m going to first look at Why I Don’t Write.
Okay, so it is early days still, and although I do call myself a writer, my efforts have been sporadic, with some particularly scant writing patches recently. Sure, there are other things in my life and I can’t write all the time, but more often than I’d like lately, it seems I don’t write. Even though my Year 2 teacher Mrs. Brooks encouraged me and gave me a star award saying “He is going to be a famous writer when he grows up”. Even though I’ve had some successes, some published pieces here and there. Even though some say they like my writing and I get adrenal quivers when I’m right into it and I really just love writing, there’s still been too many times lately where I could have written and didn’t.
When I know I could write, should write and actually want to write, but I don’t, why don’t I?
To answer this, I devised a list of possibilities:
1. Nothing to write with. Nope, rarely an issue. I ensure writing implements are handy at all times, from desktop computer to pen plus ticket stub.
2. Too busy. But I know that’s not the case. It’s not like I’m working in a factory all week for 5 cents an hour to feed my starving family. I can make the time.
3. Too hard. Variations on this include ‘uninspired’, ‘no ideas’, ‘writer’s block’, ‘I’m no good’, ‘I have nothing to write about’, ‘it’s unoriginal’ and so on. But I know this is all bovine faeces. I have dozens of scraps of ideas waiting in my notebooks. I can string a sentence together, several times over. And it’s all just moving my fingers around, really. Sure, good writing is harder, but the only way to get better is to write, so that’s what I should be doing.
4. Distraction. Also goes by the pseudonym ‘procrastination’. O yes, I will write, right after I watch another episode of Buffy. And right after I check my Twitter feed. Then right after I do the dishes. Look, it’s time to check the mail! You know the drill. I end up doing all those things, but then I don’t get around to writing. Why the hell not?
5. Fear. Am I afraid of writing? Is the blank page really that fearsome? Am I afraid of what might happen, somehow? Am I still intimidated by George Orwell and all those other towering figures? But they’re all just people. And they’re not me. And anyway, even Orwell didn’t get right into writing until around the age of 25 and he still turned out okay. I could get a head start on him! So I’ve got no excuse, really. No excuse. And that’s the thing.
6. Excuses. That’s the main reason I don’t write. I make excuses. This is just a list of excuses. Sure, everyone needs a day off and sometimes there are extenuating circumstances. But when I don’t write for a couple of days, I know that I’m just making excuses. So I feel bad. But the only solution, really, is not to mope and go woe is me and give up, but to write. No matter how hard it seems, it’s not, once you get going. In fact, it’s usually worthwhile and even fun, as I well know.
So my solution is simple. I keep writing tools at the ready. I find an hour or so in my day to knuckle down and be relatively undistracted. I take a deep breath. And I write. In fact, one of my goals for National Young Writers’ Month is to sit down every single day and do some serious(ly awesome) writing, and, despite still being slightly intimidated, I’m super excited about it.
When I address the reasons I don’t write and start to correct the bad habits, impulses and behaviour, I start to find that I’m paying attention more. I’m more mindful and doing something worthwhile. I’m active, content, living more meaningfully, more connected with my imagination and the world around me. Everything deepens and broadens, becomes richer and stranger. I become more inspired, bursting with ideas. I’m making time to do something I want to do, something challenging, transformative, therapeutic, experimental and fun. I’m summoning meaning, understanding and power. I’m growing as a writer, progressing, and maybe making something useful, something that might bring me some scratch. But more importantly, it might be of some benefit to me and to others, in some small, subtly spectacular or profound way when it’s out there, shared with the world. Nothing but me, the words and their readers.
And I guess, after addressing Why I Don’t Write, after tapping out a decent chunk of sentences, I think I’ve just explained after all, in a roundabout way, Why I Write.
[…] First, if you’ll cast your eyes down to my previous post, I’ve rescued and revived something I wrote for National Young Writers Month entitled Why I (Don’t) Write. […]
Great stuff! I’ve heard others (and even myself sometimes) mumble those exact things.
I think somewhere should be included the occasional criticism. Sure, teachers have supported a writer, parents, peers, but there is always that one person who says you can’t do it and that one bit of bad criticism scratches out twenty or even fifty good criticism remarks. It’s that bad criticism from one person which causes a lot of good writers to stop in their tracks and give up their dream.
I guess criticism is a little bit from point 3 (too hard/I’m no good) and a little from point 5 (fear), in that the criticism of others can lead to us to be overly-critical of ourselves (rather than our work), afraid to continue, and thus some writers do give up. But it’s a good point! I could have easily added it to the list.
But criticism and rejection is something every writer has to deal with. It’s what helps you grow, even though it burns, and part of me thinks that if a writer doesn’t love writing enough that they don’t madly persevere and strive to be better in the face of any criticism, then maybe writing isn’t for them after all?
On the other hand, I agree that young folks and writers just starting out shouldn’t be treated too harshly. Honestly, but not harshly. And it does depend on who the criticism comes from too, whether it’s justified, and how you respond to it. In time though, I think a writer needs to be able to take any criticism or comment, whether it’s full of light or venom.
Anyway, thanks for your comments, you’ve given me something to think about!
[…] me I was extraordinary, but I’d like to expand on this concept. Duncan recently wrote a post on Why I (Don’t) Write and it occurred to me that one thing he didn’t go in depth about was bad […]