Why I Write (One)

Hoping the computer will reel me in.So, as promised in my previous post, this is the first in my mini-series ‘Why I Write’. I’ve invited six other writers – all with different styles, genres and experiences – to write a guest post for my blog on the subject, and I’ll be posting one a week until the end of February. I’m really looking forward to reading what they each have to say. (While I’ve been writing that, I’ve thought of an area of writing that is not represented, and I know just the person – if I can twist her arm – to be my seventh writer!)

I’m going to start off this post with my parody of Hamlet’s ‘To be or not to be’ speech called ‘To write or not to write’. Some of you might have read this before, and if you came to the launch of ‘The Piano Player’s Son’, you will have heard Mat Brockington’s wonderful performance of it. Here it is:

To Write or Not to Write

To write or not to write – that is the question:
Whether tis better in life to throw parties,
To travel the world, to take up gardening,
Or to sit at the computer day after day,
And by writing, feed creativity.
To write – make up characters, plots and stories;
To live in fictional worlds more true than life.
But time – where oh where will I find the time?
Squeeze moments from my busy, frenzied day
Or stay up late, losing sleep? My much-loved sleep.
To sleep – perchance to dream – what dreams may come:
An agent, three-book deal, bestseller list,
A world-wide tour, readers eager for more.
But then, morning’s here, and with it doubts and fears,
For who would bear the scorn and derision
Of the agent’s letter, and the thud of rejection slips on the hallway floor?
Who would put themselves through such cruel torment,
Neglecting partners, friendships, and so much more?
But then the dread of what comes after writing:
The undiscovered country, that sterile land,
Where imagination shrinks and shrivels,
Where characters must die, their lives unlived.
No, I will not let my dreams and hopes
Grow sicklied with the pale cast of thought.
No, I will not squash my inspiration,
Turn away and lose the name of action.
The world must take its turn, for I
will write.

I’ve included this because in there are all the elements of just why I put myself through the ‘cruel torment’ that is writing. In some ways, there are lots of things I’d rather be doing – having fun with friends, spending time with family, visiting new places and returning to places I’ve enjoyed, walking more, learning Italian and/or the piano … but I don’t. I sit at the computer, on my own, hour after hour, making things up! How ridiculous is that. So the big question is WHY?

In the parody I mention ‘a three-book deal’, ‘best-seller list’, ‘a world-wide tour’. Do I write in pursuit of fame, glory, financial reward? Wonderful as these things would be (and it would be very easy to turn nasty to the next person who says ‘you’ll soon be a millionaire like JK Rowling’!), they are not what motivates me.

I also mention ‘readers eager for more’ and this is getting closer to what drives me on. It’s wonderful when readers get in touch to say how much they’ve enjoyed a book. Before ‘The Piano Player’s Son’ came out, I had a number of readers, who’d read ‘Unravelling’ contact me to ask when the next book was due and they couldn’t wait to read it. And it’s incredibly rewarding when I visit book groups and listen to their discussions – sometimes heated – about this or that character and their actions.

I love readers, but would I still write if my books weren’t being read? I’ve got a horrible feeling I would! I’ve made up stories since I was a child and still have some of them. Years ago, I wrote four novels (now tucked away in a drawer) which have scarcely seen the light of day, let alone a reader’s eyes. I wrote them over a ten-year period – wish I could be as productive now – starting one almost as soon as I’d finished the other, and I had three children during that time! I also had a long period when I didn’t write, when I thought I was done with writing. But then it wheedled its way back in, and I was more hooked than ever.

What a dilemma – writing is a torment, but I’m miserable and agitated if I don’t write. I feel a sense of loss, and these lines in the parody are getting closer to the crux of ‘why I write’:

But then the dread of what comes after writing:
The undiscovered country, that sterile land,
Where imagination shrinks and shrivels,
Where characters must die, their lives unlived.

A world where I’m not creating characters, not plotting their actions and lives, not employing my imagination, not delving into my unconscious would be sterile and superficial. I need to make things up. I need to try out ‘what if’. I need to put characters into difficult situations and watch what they do.

Have I answered the question implicit in ‘Why I Write’? I don’t know. I’ve read somewhere that you should be able to sum it up in one sentence. Having parodied one famous speech, I’ll fall back on Descartes’ philosophy for my one sentence (and I’m sure it’s not original!) ‘I think, therefore I write.’

It’s going to be fascinating to see how other writers tackle this. I hope you’ll be back to read their posts, and make lots of comments!





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  1. Great post, Lindsay, and I’m really looking forward to writing mine 🙂 I agree totally about writing even if you didn’t have readers to write for – I think most writers just feel this compulsion to write, with or without an end purpose. And I’m sure I’m not alone in looking forward to your next book! Jo x

  2. Polly says:

    heh-heh … visions of many, many writers feeling a tad (a tad?!) OCDish 😀

  3. Jeff Phelps says:

    Great idea, this – a constant source of interest – and particularly now the reading industry is changing so much. One can write for potentially huge audiences or almost none. Fascinated to see the rest of these.

  4. Debbie Young says:

    I love your poem, Lindsay – and what a fascinating series this is going to be! 😉

  5. David James says:

    Thankyou, Lindsay, for the clever parody of that soliloquy we all know. The twists were spot on, highlighting every writer’s agony, especially that of fiction writers. And I add as a footnote from one who’s been out in the cold for what seems like centuries, the writer of that maverick genre, the thing called literary fiction.

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