There comes a time when writers will inevitably ask THE question:
Why choose a writing life?
I’ve no idea, and I’m not alone. No less a giant in the literary world than George Orwell himself once said: “All writers are vain, selfish and lazy, and at the very bottom of their motives lies a mystery.”
With all due respect Mr Orwell sir, while I don’t appreciate being labelled as vain, selfish or lazy (who does?), I do get why you say that.
There are days when I find myself going back to read my old blog posts, and admire what I wrote again and again (Vain). And there are days when all I want to do is lock myself in the study and write, at the risk of my children banging the door down to get my attention (Selfish).
And as for Lazy… Aww c’mon, really? Must I spell it out?!
Now about that mystery Mr Orwell spoke of.
As one who only recently dared called himself a writer, I may well be in over my head here, attempting to solve a “mystery” that has stumped even Mr Orwell.
But as I inch closer to finishing the 2nd draft of my book-length memoir (18 more drafts to go), reaching my 100th blog post (this is my 90th), and guest posting successfully elsewhere (check my About page), I’ll like to give it a shot if you don’t mind.
There are three reasons why I have chosen a writer’s life, which may offer clues to this mystery. Incidentally, these three reasons are also why I don’t think everyone’s suited for it. In fact, I’m still figuring out if I’m suited for it!
But anyway, here goes.
I chose to pursue a writing life because I…
(1) …DESIRE SOLITUDE
World renown writers like Isaac Asimov and Stephen King have been known to declare that writing is a lonely job.
When people all around live lives that fulfil a prescribed daily script (wake up -> eat -> work -> eat again -> work again – > sleep; next day rinse & repeat -> end of month pay check), my life as a writer seems in contrast frivolous and inconsequential. And who in their right mind would voluntarily choose to be labelled as such?
To make matters worse, there’s no fixed routine (well actually there is; just not like said script) and, in the majority of cases, no regular pay check. Though I’m hoping as the ever-celebrated Mark Twain used to say, “Write without pay until somebody offers to pay.” (P.S. Don’t read the line following that quote!)
So I try not to engage with said people too often (nor them me) because life and work, water and oil just don’t mix well (ask Mauritius). And that’s fine, because most writers do their best when they are afforded the time and space to contemplate life in solitude, not fraternise with the world’s pomp and circumstance.
I relish my time to myself to pause and observe the world before penning my reflections down for posterity. And even if no one gets it (including me), I simply don’t care anymore (not as much as before anyway).
(2)…DON’T WANT TO CONFORM
The acclaimed G.K. Chesterton once revealed the secret to his success:
“I owe my success to having listened respectfully to the very best advice, and then going away and doing the exact opposite.”
Don’t you just love the man? No? Well I do, my “inner contrarian” nodding his head vigorously.
When I decided to stay home for my kids, people wondered what I’ll do when the kids were in school. They say (and here come the ‘big adult’ words), better to work and stay “productive” and “gainfully occupied”. And when they say those words, they never mean for you to fritter the time away writing.
Unless you’re John Grisham or John Updike or John Irving or John Cheever.
Thankfully I’ve hit 50 this year, the legal age to become a non-conformist. At this point in my life, I needn’t adhere to preassigned social scripts, nor adjust to structured office settings, nor be around workaholics on a daily basis. So while many in this Covid pandemic miss their office desks and lunch chit-chats with colleagues, I don’t.
Reading widely and writing regularly are my new best pals. They help me unpack a lot of stuff I don’t understand. Most importantly, they neither judge me nor lay upon me burdens I can’t carry.
(3)…DARE TO BREATHE AND EXPOSE MY HEART
Writers are usually writers because we have something to get off our chest. Here’s Mr Orwell once again:
“One would never undertake such a thing if one were not driven by some demon whom one can neither resist nor understand.”
While the ‘thing’ he speaks of in this quote was about book-writing, the sentiment certainly rings true for all forms of writing. From poetry to prose, proposals to press releases. And let’s face it, how many of these can we really ‘understand’, or ‘resist’ writing?!
But I like better what acclaimed poet William Wordsworth, once opined:
“Fill your paper with the breathings of your heart.”
Now there’s a man who knows what he’s talking about! Writing is like breath to a writer. As we breathe in and out each time we write, we are taking in ‘soul food’ and releasing ‘creative juices’, sharing what’s been in us all along (but hopefully not the dreaded coronavirus), and hoping that our message connects with kindred spirits everywhere.
Yet who do you know who would ‘take such breaths and open up hearts’ like that? To be so exposed and vulnerable?
The writer, that’s who.
So there you have it. Mystery solved (I hope).
But hey that’s just my take.
What about you? What are your reasons for picking a writer’s life, or even contemplating one?