Why We Should Explore Why We Write (featuring It's Me - A Flash Fiction)
Out of the rut...
I wrote It's Me some years ago when I was a first year undergraduate. After writing poetry and short prose all through my teen years I lost my way, falling into the trap of going to work then coming home and watching television. I stopped writing for nearly a decade, although I never stopped reading.
I found myself in a rut. A deep rut where I was doing work that was slowly destroying my soul (most terrifyingly working for HMRC, the UK tax office). There is nothing wrong in working in admin, or customer service, or other manifestations of drudgery, they pay the bills. But they also take away from the creative edge (a view recently shared by Cormac Mccarthy).
Eventually, after nearly a decade of this, I started writing again. Yet the words were not flowing as easily as they had when I was younger. The creative muscles had atrophied like any other muscles. So when I saw that my local University offered a course in Creative Writing (well, half a course, but that was a start) I signed up straight away - writing was becoming something of an obsession.
I went into the course feeling that I just needed a nudge. After all, I had been published as a teenager and now I was older, wiser; I had more experience and I had read so much more. So really I saw the course the same way that an athelete who has suffered a long injury sees a return to the gym. It way a vital part of my path to rehabilitation.
If I excercised the creative muscles they would come back stronger, right?
Why Do You Write
Why Do You Write
"Income from writing: nil; income from teaching writing $32,000"
The Learning Curve.
My very first lecture was not in creative writing, it was about globalisation (you may tell from my other hubs that I also have an interest in politics), but soon I got to join the rest of my creative writing fellows. It was a mixed bunch of teenage idealists and jaded mature students who, like me, were fed up of their jobs or other personal circumstances.
From the very start I realised two things. First, my love of reading and the wide range of subject matter had put me in good stead. The best way to learn about writing is to read. Read everything. Read different genres. Read the classics. Read good books. You should even read bad books - not often, because reading bad books is damaging for the soul, but nothing teaches you what not NOT to do quite like reading badly written literature.
The second was that there is much MORE to writing than I had believed. You cannot just have a good idea and run with it (and if only 1% of the ideas I have crammed into my ideas notebook are good I still have dozens that are worth developing). You may get some good stuff but you will almost certainly get more bunkum. What I found more galling is even once you understand all of the techniques (and Billybuc here on Hub Pages is a good guy to visit to learn more about the techniques- I myself may write some hub on that subject in the future) you will still probably write more bunkum than good stuff unless (for the committed writer this becomes until) you learn to love editing.
The other blow, which put a good number of my fellow students off and which I believe is why many have passed the course but given up writing, is that writing is not a good way to make a living. Writers, most professional writers that is, you cannot count Stephen King, J.K.Rowling and Neil Gaiman with the rest of us mortals, make significantly below £10,000 (around $16,000) per year. Not enough to live on in an age where the average wage is nearer three times that. And for writers starting out with no passive income to boost their income the figures are much more depressing. One of the senior lecturers on my course had a delightfully depressing picture on the wall saying "income from writing: nil; income from teaching writing $32,000 (this wasn't a wage slip, but a rather poignant way of telling us not to write for money).
So it was really important to explore the reasons why I wanted to write.
This short story is a little bit of that.
It is not quite the story I would write today but I did not want to change it because I think it is important to remember the writer I was.
A Writer's Brain
Each of the sitting figures struggled to control shuffling feet and tapping fingers while waiting for resident expert Miss JP Miller to start the workshop. She stood at the front of the theatre and even stretching over the lectern she demanded attention.
“What does it mean to write?” She asked and saw keenness replaced by bemusement as it stampeded through the students. Only one was unaffected, a dishevelled youth who radiated exaggerated disinterest.
At the front of the class a hand raises like a periscope in enemy waters. JP Miller looked at the face the hand belonged to and nodded.
“Miss, is it using language to convey meaning to...”
“It can be, but perhaps the question should have been why do you write?”
Half raised hands were withdrawn, and open mouths were shut. The teacher walked down amongst the tables and tapped one poor student on his shoulder.
“So why do you write?” She asked again. “Anybody?”
Miss JP Miller mingled amongst the students, each step seemingly randomly taking her around the class until she stopped behind a couple on the back row. JP hadn’t managed to interrupt their close conversation and the rest of the class laughed as she bought her hands down firmly on their shoulders causing heads to clash.
“So why do you write?” JP said to the class. “I’m going to ask everybody in turn and I expect you all to have an answer ready, starting with you two.”
“To explore language” said one as the other said “To express ideas”.
“To explore language and express ideas,” repeated JP Miller “Good...now more”
Each member of the class shouted, muttered or stuttered aloud their own ideas of what it meant to be a writer. Any student that repeated a previous answer found their words rejected and was forced to think of something that had not been said. The ideas spread included writing to educate, which nearly got a frown, writing because you like it, which failed to register a reaction, and writing to explore yourself, which very nearly got a semi-smile.
The brainstorm had nearly gotten around the class and despite her verbal protestations that the class were excellent and original she didn’t seem inspired. She looked tired and when they got around to the last member of the group Miss JP Miller couldn’t contain a sigh as she looked at the dishevelled youth who was trying with extreme care to appear disinterested and contemptuous of all other students. Before he said anything she spoke to the class.
“All good answers, and every one of them is correct, there are no wrong...”
“Writing is me.” Interrupted the last student. Miss JP Miller looked over her shoulder at him, a spark of curiosity and enthusiasm entering her voice as she asked “What did you say?”
“Writing is me, it’s what I do; wherever possible it’s how I communicate. Like a lover it’s my first and last thought of the day, it defines every aspect of my personality, it is my history and my future, my breath, my food, my thirst. It is my waste, my sweat, my tears and my blood. Writing is me.”
The Rarest Breed - Rich Writers
I hope you enjoyed it
I hope you enjoyed this expose of the younger writer in me.
For every writer to develop it is important to write for the sake of writing. That is not to say that you cannot or should not explore commercial opportunities (even posting it here may earn me a few pence) but if you write purely for a financial return you are both setting yourself up to be disappointed and limiring the options to explore your writing and improve.
So for all those who love writing then I urge you to write first and worry about money later.
Oh, and read. Read LOTS.