Thursday, 12 November 2009

Why Not Simply Live?

Why write at all?

Why closet oneself away (or worse go out somewhere, then wilfully ignore your surroundings) and weave patterns of unreality when there is so much to be seen and experienced?

Put another way, what makes someone a writer? It has been said that writers write ‘because it isn’t there’ – every work of fiction Fiction Books is an attempt, conscious or unconscious, to recast the world in a mould closer to the writer’s ideal. Or to colour the world the colour of the writer’s darkest nightmares (an even more obscurely-motivated action). Whichever, it bespeaks a certain dissatisfaction with the way the world actually ‘is’. A writer has other worlds and other people calling, worlds and people which somehow seem more important, for a period, than anything the ‘real’ world has to offer.

This could be applied, of course, to reading—and by extension many forms of entertainment, from TV to playing Farmville on facebook. This is a turning away from reality, also, a plunge into a sub-world that bears many resemblances to real life but carries none of its responsibilities. And (almost) everyone does this...for relaxation, for relief, for diversion.

The act of writing is at once similar and very different. It is an act, a conscious effort (and what an effort, sometimes). So why do it? What is about that world beyond the world that draws us so powerfully? Hemingway said about writing daily that ‘when you stop you are as empty, and at the same time never empty but filling, as when you have made love to someone you love. Nothing can hurt you, nothing can happen, nothing means anything until the next day when you do it again.’ I know that feeling. There is something about this recasting of the world that reconciles us to it in some powerful way; somehow fiction Fiction Books is, for some of us, an essential way of dealing with reality.

Martin Amis said good writers must be innocent; I would go further and say that for good writers writing is a way of rediscovering their innocence, reconnecting to the world and their perception of it. Done right, it is the ultimate working meditation. A true religious experience: the creator’s. And because it involves that effort, the rewards are much greater, if occasionally more slow-burning, than those of the more passive acts of relaxation.

The short answer to the question why write is ‘because it’s necessary’. That’s my answer; even if I’m not physically writing, there are characters, scenes and situations playing themselves out in my mind. They never go away. These characters present themselves as if they are real (I once caught myself wondering what a certain character of mine would think of how I was behaving), and the act of transcribing their reality becomes a way of connecting to what common sense would call ‘reality’, a way of mastering it and understanding it—and most deeply, of appreciating it.

Why write? Because it is an aid to living.

1 comment:

  1. The last paragraph sums it up for me. I do it because I gripped by ideas or characters that I have to get out in some way. I read somewhere about how writing was like a controlled form of schitzophrenia which, from my own experience, I would go along with. When I'm writing well, its more that I'm typing what's dictated to me rather than anything consciously created. Of course, my stuff veers towards the "darkest nightmares" territory - where safer to explore these places than on a page?