Recently, lots of people (at least two people) have asked me, 'Where do you get your inspiration from?' in terms of writing. Of course I was telling them about my few, limited array of published work of late trying to make myself sound legit. This question, I suppose, is tantamount to, 'Why do you write?' (or at least, that's what I started thinking about). Which, in a roundabout way gets us back to Awkward Ways To Explain Your Life To Strangers At Parties (Part ii coming soon - i recently went to a party and tried out a few of my previous ideas. Unfortunately I got too drunk to remember most of the responses accurately and spent the next day throwing up in various beautiful spots around Oxford city centre, including an impressive yellow projectile into the grounds of one of the UK's most prestigious private primary schools. Win/fail).
I have just read THIS RAMBLING BUT PRETTY DAMN GOOD article over on one of my favourite literary bogs, HTMLGIANT. I feel pretty much just like this couch-surfing, retail-working young wannabe writer. There's a lot of what the hell am I doing? What the hell am I thinking? WHY the hell am I even doing this?? Maybe I should have trained as an accountant, a graphic designer, something safe with a pension that I might even be able to fool myself into believing I care about, that I can feel pride in, that I can believe is having something other than a negative affect on the world. My grammar is shit. I'm not experimental enough. No one abused me as a child. I'm white and male and only have a vague stab at homosexuality to taint my prose with anything other than a totally unoriginal voice.
Worry. Worry. Worry.
That's a big bit of writing I think. A big bit of 'being an artist.' (wank wank wank...)
Ironically, the other side is a big wodge of egoism, narcissism, 'check out my fucking story'ism. A big wodge of how do I define myself in the eyes of others AND in my own mind when I walk around the streets, ticking people off by profession or association? Basically - who am I?
Does writing tell you that? Does anything tell you that?
What am I actually trying to get out of it here? I moved away from London so that I could 'concentrate on my writing, man.' Which has lead slowly to some publications, a manuscript now getting bandied around the Inboxes of people whose literary criticism I respect. Perhaps even a couple of people reading this now (including some people in Alaska! Hi guys! Sorry about my offensive Sarah Palin articles!). But why the hell do I even want to do it?
It's such an abstract thing, isn't it? Scribbling (typing) away alone for hours hoping or being compelled by some need to extricate an emotion, an idea, to push the boundaries of the craft you've found yourself returning to despite potential lives in other sectors (I did a degree in theatre design. I realised halfway through that I can sleep through almost any theatrical production or production meeting. Particularly when the techies start complaining.).
Perhaps I could just sleep my way through a career with a better pension plan? Providing I'm still there to enjoy it I can hope for at least twenty years in my semi in front of daytime TV and some almost fatal winter months to look forward to. Some cups of tea. An enema or two. Memories of something or other.
Yet it feels like I have not really had a choice in the matter. Jack Kerouac moved in with his mum after university, and (selfishly?) let her support him while he famously sweated (literally) away at his typewriter. His wife reported that he went through five shirts a day due to the ferocity with which his fingers hit the keys. Nick Drake killed himself because he didn't feel like his writing was as good as the work of his piers (people like Bob Dylan - who I openly and unfashionably despise). Sylvia Plath's genre of 'confessional poetry' (and prose AKA The Bell Jar) certainly is getting something out - the death of her father, her attempted suicide, depression, turbulent relationship with Ted Hughes.
These writers (who I am in no way comparing myself to in anyway other than perhaps a similar mentality towards writing) would probably also have said that writing chose them. Of course it sounds pretentious as fuck to say that. It's very uncool to show passion. A vague, safe interest usually suffices (particularly in small talk at parties). It is also a luxury. Historically, writers have always been upper middle-class kids with parent's who'll pay for studios in Montmartre or a little manor in the Lake District. The twenty-first century at least shifted that a bit (Kerouac was, after all, a scholarship boy).
I suppose it feels like I'm doing something. Particularly if people read it and can confirm that they think it is 'good.' Better still if it moved them in someway.
Perhaps that is it: It moves me it moves you. I don't know what to do with these feelings so I'll bungle them into sentences and hand them over to you to decode with your own life.
Yes, I think that's it.
Even if I was never published again, I would still write. No - I'm not being coy or suffering from false modesty. I WANT to be read. I dream of being read and discussed and chatting to Mariella Frostrup's sexy husky voice on Open Book about my new novel. I wet myself over others reading my words and feeling about them the way I have felt about some other peoples' words. Don't get me wrong. But I'd still do it anyway. I suppose it's how I make sense of things. Otherwise they'd just come out here. And writing a diary feels so small and boring. And so incredibly about ME. Which gets grating because I'm always thinking about being me - it's nice to think about someone else who feels a bit like me who I can control in a Word Document every now and again.
A year ago I read a quote which changed the course of my life and I have since subsequently forgotten. It's about finding what you love doing, or cannot not do, and make it the primary focus of your life. I realised, after wandering around London and a few other towns for a few years, usually drunk, that that would always be writing. Why? I'm still not sure. I'm horribly dyslexic and as a child only ever read factual books about ancient civilizations. That and the Narnia books on story tapes. Perhaps C.S. Lewis did it? Perhaps it was just growing up in a small town where the most exciting thing was seeing someone you knew in the court listings of the local paper.
I suppose that is why anybody writes. Or does anything that they realise they love in some way or another: because it just doesn't make sense NOT to do it. Right? Because you don't really have a choice? The unfortunate answer to a polite 'what do you do?' at parties. Which might not go down so well but might just in fact be true.