Why The Hell I Write

Just something I spewed out instead of actually, er, writing….

I’m going to another creative writing class next week and the chosen book is a compilation of bits, pieces and essays by proper (ie, published, well received) writers about why and how they write. I flicked through it earlier, and this began to form in my brain.


I write for many reasons, some of which are silly and some of which are stupid.


  • I write to have an excuse to spend hours in Starbucks.

  • I write to have something to do.

  • I write because I really, really want to play God.

  • I write because I’m not much cop at anything else.

  • I write just in case my first plan of ‘Become a Rock Star’ falls through.


All of this is at least a little bit true. However:


  • I spend hours in Starbucks so that I might actually write. Otherwise I could just get take-out.

  • I can always find something to do, even if it’s nothing. I’m a champion at ‘busy doing nothing’.

  • I really, really want to be God. That one’s totally true.

  • I probably show promise at other things, although what I couldn’t say.

  • Actually, ‘Be A Rock Star’ is my Plan B. Writing is/was/should be Plan A.


I find ideas horrendously easy. Too easy. They come when I don’t want them, when I’m already working on eleventy billion others. Actually sitting down and writing is another matter. I mean, I like doing it. I miss it when I can’t, for whatever reason, but it’s not easy.


For me, writing isn’t a search for the divine, or for truth, or to shine a light in dark corners of the world. It’s a battle between me and myself. It is the battle between Clare, who wants to be successful, who really just wants to finish something and her Evil Twin, who would much rather sit and watch the same repeats on Dave, or lie in bed.


Writing is the triumph over myself. As much as I would dearly love things to be published, to be successful even, and *gasp* to make money, for me there is almost a greater triumph in just getting something down on the page in the first place.


I can’t really write at home anymore. I get too distracted by the TV or a DVD or stuff on the internet. My flowery dell is not designed for writing, it seems, and I rather like it like that. If I don’t get better maybe I’ll have to use Natasha/Rachel’s Room as a study/office, and try and force myself to use it in that way… but I’m not convinced it would work.


When I’m at Starbucks, I get my frappucino and sit down to work. I have specific favourite places in each Starbucks I visit – there are many of them round here but not all of them have the right feeling for me – and I generally hope to get my favourite place. Right now, I’m in Starbucks at the crossroads of Old Street/Goswell Road/Aldersgate Street/Clerkenwell Road, downstairs on the sofa at the end, where the electricity sockets are. It’s also one of the few spots down here I seem to get internet connection, which is important for the ‘dicking about’ section of the process.


I switch on my computer and sip at my frappucino, and here begins the battle. For two weeks out of four, I have Private Eye with me, and there is the battle between writing and just reading that to contend with before going any further. My little writing laptop is pretty slow, so I justify reading the Eye as something to do while it, and then OpenOffice, starts up. Quite how I justify still reading it when six Word files have opened and are waiting for me is another matter.


Then, there is the internet. I didn’t realise at first that this laptop had wireless, but it does. I didn’t realise at first, but Starbucks Card people (me, of course) get free WiFi in Starbuckses across the universe. Thus begins the second battle: to not give in and turn the wireless on… which generally fails at some point to kick off the third battle: to not just dick about online for a few hours. I can muck around online at home much faster without getting in the way of what I actually want to do, and yet this battle rages each and every time.


Writing is a fight, every bloody time. It is the quest to overcome my own weakness of character, and I don’t win as often or as well as I would like. Even now, this could be considered a distraction from what I should be doing.


At least fanfic isn’t the distraction it used to be. Indeed, a fanfic is the only long story I ever finished, and I’d put money on the ready audience with its feedback being a good reason for that. I’m not half so much into fic these days, mostly because I don’t belong to a fandom… but I am writing a fic in a fandom not my own to see if I can write almost ‘to demand’. I’m trying to write something which will please an audience and yet not disregard my own self… not sure how that’s going to be honest, but I dip into it only when I run up against brick walls with everything else, so that’s a small victory of sorts.


I said I find ideas horrendously easy, and it’s quite true. I have around 140 word files in my My Documents folder… and most of them are barely even fragments of stories. Some of them are as much as a couple of pages long


And even just now I got distracted from writing this by opening up some of the old bits and pieces: the dystopian future The True Story of How Roisin Dubh Saved The World, the bits of stuff for a story to be co-written with a friend about two different girls who are fans of the same pop star. I managed to create an entire career for this guy, Everett Valentine, right down to tracklistings for his records and setlists for his tours… and then failed to write much for the actual story.


This battle really is a slow, dull, tiring war of attrition. I manage to write a paragraph, or maybe a scene for Finest Kind, my graphic novel thing… and then I spend twenty minutes mucking around not writing. Then I write a smidgen more and still don’t capture what was in my head.


I’ve been writing stories for about as long as I can remember. It was the bit of school I really loved. Mrs Porter told me off for swearing in one story – I was seven at the time – but otherwise it was the part of class that I looked forward to and wished there was more of. My mum taught me to type at much the same age so that I could write more. The epic, rambling, awful, just-as-well-its-lost Secret Diary of Dannii was the first child born from this new skill.


I write to kill time. I am generally a solitary creature, and they make good writers in one respect. I can quite happily cloister myself away for hours. When we had a computer tucked away in our spare bedroom, I would spend hours, literally hours, each day writing there. I had my cassette tape player in there and I remember sitting for hours writing stories while listening to the best of Peter Sellers. The writing reflected what was happening to me at the time while avoiding what was really happening – the number of stories I wrote about super-popular girls reflected the fact I was reading Sweet Valley High too much (ie, I was reading them) and yet also the fact that as far as I knew, everyone at school hated me. That nobody ever read these stories and they no longer exist is hardly a tragedy, but they were priceless to me at the time. At a time when it felt like I was absolutely powerless to do anything but just let time pass around me, writing was what made it go quicker.


In fact, the more I think about it, the more I think I should make my spare room a proper study. There’s already a desk in there. All I need is a chair to go with it and to clear all the rubbish out of the way. And I’ve got a CD/Cassette player that can go in there. Oh yes… it could even work.


I like playing God, too. It appeals to my ego, arrogant little shit that she is. I could never be God, of course. I have the imagination but not the absolute eye for details. I’d also end up going postal on all those horrid little humans and raining down sulphur on the ingrates. I saw someone on TV once say that the blank page is God’s way of showing us how difficult his job is. Well, I don’t see it that way, as it happens: the blank page is something to be filled, even if one fills it with total bollocks while waiting for something better to come along.


Actually, my eye for detail has improved. I’ve got my little map of Rushmead, the suburban town of my invention which is the setting for more than several of my unfinished stories. There are word files and family trees full of information for others. For The Girl Queen, there’s five hundred years’ worth of intertwined royal lines and I even know the official colours for each nation. For Empira (the island nation central to said story) there’s even a list of ships that make up the navy. Not bad for someone with no eye for detail, I think, but hardly unique amongst writers. I mean, Tolkien…


I’m getting all inspired thinking about setting up my study, you know. There’s a thrill in the back of my head from it, and remembering those happy times shut away in the suburban spare room of my parents, churning it out… happy days, except that it was all dross, dreck and toss. Maybe for me the battle is what makes it better (I don’t claim to be good, that’s for someone else to decide) and that being too quick is what makes it unreadable.


Perhaps I need the battle between the ambitious, eager, hardworking Clare and her workshy, lazy counterpart. If it were easy, maybe I wouldn’t want to do it, or it would be bad. I mean, Barbara Cartland wrote eleventy billion books in her career and……………………………………………………….


But it might mean I finished something, and that would be nice.


I write because I don’t really have a choice. I don’t know how it is for other people, but if I get an idea, I can’t just leave it. In fact, sometimes the act of writing it down is what kills it, which is useful. Isolde from Leaving Brigadoon, which I consider my best chance for finishing/publication right now, leapt into my head pretty much fully formed: six years old, scruffy, twinkling eyed, grinning, inquisitive. Bianca Saxon, on the other hand, really needs a new name. How white supremacist is that name? It wasn’t at all intentional: Bianca for white/pure which is good and appropriate to her, but I only picked Saxon because I was watching that particular story arc on Doctor Who when I started. She needs a new surname, like woah. Any ideas gratefully received.


I write because they won’t leave me alone. Do other people get this at all? Am I mad or is it normal? I really don’t know. Maybe I need to read my new book to find out. Maybe it’s a perfectly normal reaction for all those of us who, for whatever reason, like to write. I don’t just mean plot bunnies that won’t sod off, I mean the deep urge/desire to just write. I have a notebook that I carry around with me at all times so that if there’s ever a moment where it’s just me – on trains, buses, in coffee shops, sitting on a bench somewhere – I can pick up wherever I left off. I’ve even been known to scribble while sitting in a pub with people I know, which is awfully rude in some respects, but at least I wasn’t also listening to my iPod at the time.


I write because it is impossible for me not to. That’s really all there is to it.

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