I was sitting in a class a few weeks ago called Writing for a Living. Every week we have a guest lecturer come in and talk about how you can make a career out of nothing more than an ability to write. They talk about perseverance and persuasiveness and being prolific and a lot of pretty obvious advice: apparently being able to write well is kind of important. I had no idea. One week a guy came in – I forget who he was – and someone asked him how he knew he wanted to be a writer. I sighed, because students tend to have an annoying habit of asking questions that are clearly going to get a non-committal answer (“Where do you get your inspiration?” “Well, everywhere…”). So when asked how he knew he wanted to be a writer I was expecting the self-evident, “I just sort of knew,” or the, “As a kid I always loved to write.” What he actually said was something along the lines of him not being able to imagine doing anything else. In itself, that’s the kind of sound-bite I hate, but it got me thinking: why do we write? Or more importantly, why do I write?
I’ve come up with a few reasons:
1. To get rich and/or become successful. I’ve been writing a few music reviews lately and, although they’ve all been unpaid, I’m doing it to get my name out there in the hope that someday a guy in designer sunglasses, ripped jeans and a leather jacket comes tearing up the street, thrusts a big bag of cash at me and says, “come write for Rolling Stone, kid. You’ve got what it takes. Now go interview Bieber, Jagger and Bono in their hotel rooms in Vegas. Later we’ll go snort coke with Kesha at an orgy.”
If you enjoy the process of writing inherently, this is the ultimate goal. Calling yourself a writer attracts many a raised eyebrow because it carries connotations you might not appreciate – “no, god damn it, I’m not a recluse, and yes, I do regularly wear trousers” – but if you have the wage packet and the contact list to back up your claim, suddenly you find yourself being hit on by gay Italians and supermodels at secret parties in high-end clubs despite stopping every few minutes to push your glasses back up your nose. I assume that’s what it’s like; I’ll let you know, but until then, nobody dispel the magic.
2. Escapism/comfort. Everyone loves a good book or TV show or film. It’s even better when you find a character that makes you go, “fuck, yeah, that’s me!” For me, it’s a mix between troubled genius House or the sarcastic, handsome ladies-men Rick Castle and Hank Moody. What’s even better than watching those guys solve the case that’s stumped everyone else is writing your own stories. You can really lose yourself in the life of one of your own characters, even if they’re not like you: I spent a great night wrapped up in the mind of a lesbian assassin – even while she was fending off two dozen armed Turkish bodyguards I kept making her touch her boob. Teehee.
3. Freedom of expression. Despite living in a society proud of its freedom of speech, there are still certain things I wouldn’t say out loud. I’m not talking about racism, homophobia, paedophilia or anything like that, I’m thinking about things that might just be considered weird. I’m definitely not saying I do, but if I counted dressing up vegetables to re-enact famous movie scenes as a hobby of mine, I probably wouldn’t want to admit it (not that I do it), but I could write about it without worrying about becoming a social pariah. In fact, I could probably submit such a story (with plenty of photos) to an online forum dedicated to vegetable re-imaginings of classic moments (not that I ever have). Point is, we can write about literally anything, and get satisfaction from it, without getting strange looks from your friend while sitting in a Starbucks.
Also, and this is more of a personal point, but I find expressing myself in conversation the way I want virtually impossible. I would love to be one of those people who can talk for hours about basically nothing, and have an audience rapt with attention from start to finish. Yet here’s me, a guy who spent three months living in the Amazon Rainforest, who will sum it up in about two minutes – “oh yeah, it was awesome. Lots of bugs and stuff. And rain, it rained a lot. Oh and um, there was no hot water or electricity and so yeah, it was pretty good I guess.” I’m exaggerating that a little, I think, I hope, but you get the idea. So I’m glad I can write. I’m not saying I’m the best writer in the world by any means, I’m saying that I can write in a way that makes me feel like I’ve said what I wanted to say adequately.
It’s that last point, really, that sums up this entire post. I take great pride in my writing: I’m the kind of guy who, if he finds a typo in a tweet, will delete it and write it again. Sometimes it’s nothing but frustration, but when it works writing is incredibly satisfying and gives me a massive buzz. Whether I’m writing because I’m trying to express myself properly, or because I want to escape to a fantasy world, or even because I’m trying to make a living out of it, that little buzz is always there. So I know how that guy felt – I couldn’t imagine myself doing anything else either.