Because we have stories to tell, messages to communicate, lessons to impart to others?
Because we ‘hear voices’? (As in the voices of characters who are trying to get out of our heads and into the world)
Because it’s therapeutic, soothing and fulfilling; a way of working things out, of giving shape to our thoughts, our fears and our dreams?
For me, it’s all of the above, and more.
I don’t write to make money. Yes, I have tried to sell my writing, with varying degrees of success. Although I do some writing to earn a living, I don’t make a living out of writing. And that’s OK. Whether it’s for an audience of hundreds or an audience of one, I mainly write because the act itself gives me satisfaction, clarity and purpose. Because it makes me happy. But what makes me happiest about writing is sharing what I have written, and sharing the act of writing.
When I wrote my first novel, Exuberance, my friends and family got used to hearing me talk about Angie, Jimmy, Tiger, Norah and Sinead – the characters in the story – as though they were people made of flesh and bone. After all, I had them in my life for three years, which is how long it took to write the first draft in between work, family and all my other commitments, particularly my social commitments. I discussed the ups and downs of their fictional lives with everyone in my real life, often gaining amazing insights from these discussions – which became crucial to the development of the plot.
Writing is inherently a solitary activity, and I happen to be gregarious. I attempted the National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) challenge once, in an effort to finish my second novel. The challenge consists of writing a 50,000 word novel in one month, the month of November. I notified all my friends and family that they wouldn't see much of me for that month. After work I would head home and write, night after night, at a rate of 1700 words a night to reach my goal. I failed miserably, of course. I like my friends. I like my social life. I like telling, hearing and exchanging stories which one day might become the seeds of new stories. I like discussing the lives of my characters.
So I tend to fill my free hours with activity, with family and friends, trips and conversations, I talk about writing instead of actually writing, and I sometimes go for long stretches of time without committing many words to paper. But then something, sooner or later, starts to feel amiss.
I sometimes wonder if I have the temperament to be a writer. The answer is, irrevocably, yes. I might not have the discipline, the focus, the capacity for solitude that is required to churn out one volume per year, but I have the passion, the commitment and the need – the hunger – to write. On and off, I have been writing for as long as I can remember. I write when I am buoyant, sad, anxious, relaxed, troubled, or inspired. I write fiction, non-fiction, poetry, articles, scripts, journals, memoirs, speeches, letters to the editor. I write for myself, and for others, and with others. I like, in particular, writing with others.
It doesn’t have to be a crowd – two can be enough. Recently I was tidying up my study and found a handful of stories I wrote many years ago when a friend and I used to get together for dinner once a week. After dinner we would put the dishes away and take out our pens and notebooks out of our bags. We would select the first sentence out of a book, or pick words out of a hat, and use them as inspiration to compose a very short story – something we could write in thirty minutes to one hour. We would then read the stories to each other, offer praise or suggestions for improvement, and be on our way. We kept that going for quite a few months, and we produced an interesting collection of stories, but most importantly, it was an brilliant excuse to get together regularly, share a meal and motivate each other to do something we both loved doing.
Collaborative writing can also have unexpected, and incredibly entertaining results. I treasure ‘The Penguin Addiction’, a novella a friend who lives interstate and I wrote together, by email, a few years ago. It has two female characters who vaguely resemble ourselves (Pippi and Fay), and a menagerie of animals including a disappearing donkey, a goat named Heathcliff and a pink dragon with a penchant for penguins (and no, it wasn’t a children’s story). We wrote a chapter each, and every day I would rush home from work in anticipation of the chapter that would be waiting for me in my mailbox, knowing that whatever wild twist the plot had taken overnight, it would had me laughing to the point of tears. What was most unexpected about this was that the friend who instigated it, was not hitherto a writer. ‘The Penguin Addiction’ might have been written for an audience of two, but the result was delightful, and I dare say, perfectly publishable. Perhaps one day, if I can convince my friend...
Last year I found a local community of writers who get together at a café and write. We catch up once a month, on a Saturday, for two and a half hours of uninterrupted writing. We talk a little, we drink a little coffee, but mainly, we write. To meet with other like-minded people and work together, even if you are not necessarily speaking with each other, can be very stimulating and inspiring. You feel part of a community and that helps to get the creative juices flowing. I have been attending Writers Bloc meetings in Parramatta for nearly a year and now I help to host them. My second novel, which had been stagnant for a long time, has started flowing again, even if it’s only once a month. For those two and a half hours, my pen is on fire, and the sound of other pens scratching on paper, and fingers clacking on keyboards, and the look on concentration of people’s faces, leads me to believe that everyone else in the room – whether it’s three of us or ten – are being just as productive.
I might even attempt NaNoWriMo again this year – Writers Bloc holds intensive sessions in November – working together with fellow writers towards a common goal, would make this goal much more achievable.
Writers Bloc (www.thewritersbloc.net ) provides a place for people to develop their writing, read fantastic stories and create collectives with other emerging writers online and off. Details of upcoming meetings in Parramatta and the city are available at http://www.meetup.com/WritersBlocSydney/