... but I stopped. Now I'm a dad, and may blog again...

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

379: Why I Write

There was a time before I felt like writing. I was young; various ages of young – very young, a bit young, young adult, youngster – those times. I sometimes wrote a poem or a story on a whim. Often these rare events would coincide with a prompt, such as the introduction of an electronic typewriter into the family house. I remember my sister, probably aged about seven or eight, desperately wanting a typewriter. This was like me and my guitar – never really used, and largely a waste of money. Just a thing you inexplicably want when you are at a certain age. She did author a couple of excellent juvenelia stories (I remember one being called Not Now, Stephanie), although I can't remember if the typewriter was her tool for this.

I scribbled a poem called Why? (sample shittiness: Why does a pig have a curly tail, why does England's team always fail? I blush.) aged perhaps eleven or twelve. At the same time I can recall writing a letter to my granddad who lives in Spain. He would write very occasional letters to my mum, in a chatty self-depreciating lightly-humorous tone that I admired. I attempted to emulate this style in a letter to him. During the course of writing the letter my pen began to run out and I switched to a pen of a different colour. I made reference to this and said "... it's running out". Beside the "it's" I placed an asterisk referencing a note at the foot of the page. Explaining the word "it's" I wrote "my pen is", however due to the confined space it read "my penis". I didn't notice. Upon proudly showing my lettered composition to my dear mother, she gently chuckled at my faux pas and pointed it out to me. In my desperate childish embarrassment I tore the letter up, and didn't write again for some time.

Another memory I cannot exactly place in time. It seems to be happening in my childhood home (I was eleven when we moved from there), although I can't shake the feeling the following event happened after having read Trainspotting by Irvine Welsh. I cannot believe I read Trainspotting at this young age, although I may have been exposed to it by a friend's hip Jazz-singing mum. I wrote a short story highly derivative of a Trainspotting-type thing, the plot or content of which I cannot remember. I excitedly showed it to my dad; it was the first thing I had written in a long time, and I knew it was rubbish, but none-the-less I had written something. He cast a glance over it and passed it back with a final, "I don't like it". I didn't write again for some time.

Older again, this time around fourteen or fifteen, and as a family we rented Army of Darkness (The Medieval Dead) from the video shop. The next day at school in English lesson we were required to write a story in pairs. I lead the way in an unoriginal and graphic story about someone being quartered with a chainsaw. Why this poor soul suffered such a fate I cannot recall. The result was a severe bollocking from my teacher, and "a word" with my parents. They seemed more concerned that I had just copied something from the film we watched instead of coming up with something original, as if I was just supposed to sit down and immediately begin producing non-derivative works. I pathetically maintained (i.e. lied) that I hadn't been influenced by Army of Darkness and my co-writer must have seen it.

Older still, and I wrote thousands of words of stream of consciousness pseudo-poetic prose about Miscellaneous Sal and Polar Bear Mo. Miscellaneous Sal was a name taken from a till receipt on which the final letter of the phrase 'miscellanous sale' was omitted. Polar Bear Mo was the nickname my sister gave to the matriarch of the Slater family on Eastenders. A combination of late-teen reverie and pit-dwelling, cannabis consumption, and drastic sleeping patterns fuelled the composition which I named Why I've Got to Ruin the Moment, and which I still have bound in yellow plastic.

More years passed; I went to university and studied a dreadful course at a backwater satellite college, which I chose simple because I couldn't decide between Art or Creative Writing. Gradually I began to notice that writing seemed to be something I was ever so slightly better at than some of my peers, even those also studying writing. This had never happened to me before. I have never been good at any sport, any instrument, any anything. As MC Paul Barman put it, I'm the ne plus ultra over B-plus culture. The reason for this is simply that I am inclined towards inactivity; a lazy wee shite.

Even after spotting an emerging talent for writing, and an enjoyment at doing so, I still just didn't bother. I fucked about wanting to give this and that a go, instead of knuckling down and putting in some hard work towards developing a skill, and perhaps developing a craft. I simply lack discipline. I wasted years and years of my life by not writing. I stressed and struggled with thoughts and emotions I could not pin down. I did drugs and drank heavily, I ran away to Japan, avoiding anything and everything.

But now I write every day. I don't write enough, but I certainly write more than I would if I hadn't made a concerted effort. One day (inspired by Richard Herring's Warming Up) I just started writing a blog every day. Once or twice I tried to write a diary in the past. I never had the motivation to keep it up, since it wasn't public and no one was checking up on me; and I never had the confidence to write anything interesting in it, in case it was seen and I might be mocked. I recently discovered that the science fiction author Michael Moorcock writes 15,000 words a day. I've not read anything by him yet, but regardless this is an impressive amount. But I see no reason why I shouldn't do this too.

Often a thought will pop into my head; a short poem ("Dog turd turns, from black to brown, as flies take flight, and fill the air, with shards of shite"), a powerful turn of phrase, an amusing alliteration, a theme, plot or character. It will haunt me, obliterating any room for independent thought, repeating itself over and over again. I have no control over this. The only cure is to write the bloody thing down. Sometimes on a scrap of paper that I will lose. Often this happens when I am in bed with the lights off. Occasionally I have written in the dark only to discover in the morning that the pen wasn't working and the page is still blank. Sometimes I even have no memory of writing whatever, and awake to a notated dream-thought. The instant I have committed the thought to paper, it leaves my mind, and peace descends.

It's like the internal nagging has been alacazam'd away; the act of writing literally is a spell to dispel the acursed repetitions. (Perhaps the musically talented could use a version of this technique to dispel earworms. Aside: I recently discovered I could vanish any annoying tune from my head by triumphantly humming the theme from Beethoven's setting of the poem Ode an die Freude: DA DA DA DA DA-DA-DA-DA DA-DA-DA-DA DA-DA-DAAHH, or whatever.) If only I had committed myself fully to developing as a writer years ago I might have made more of my teens and twenties. Ah well, such is life (as my dad says). Best just make the most of my thirties, hadn't I?

So, why do I write. Because it helps to clear the cache of my conscious, it exercises my mind and excises my thoughts, it relaxes me, it excites me; I'm good at it and getting better. It may be the only marketable skill I have, and if I worked as a writer – self-employed and working on stories, novels and articles – I would never have to do a day's work again.  Reading, writing, researching; getting out what I put in.  I write because I have to, I need to, I love to.  I want control of my life and my future, and know only one way I might achieve that.

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