I woke up on New Year’s Eve and decided to announce to a bunch of about 30 friends that I intended to “get published in 2012”. So, without a hint of irony, I wrote to them about my writing.
I composed a carefully crafted message, and then I tried crafting a carefully composed message. I scrupulously avoided any explicit expression of self-interest, ambition, neediness or attention-seeking. If it was there it had to be subtle and deniable. I was clear and concise, but warm and engaging. I was a little bit self-depreciating, but not so much as to appear I was fishing for complements. I asked people for any feedback on my writing, with a link to this blog.
Each of my intended recipients had at some stage made a reasonably positive response to something I had written and published on the inter-web. Although to be honest, responses had been few and far between, hence the need to edge up the pressure a little. I hit “send” and immediately had that familiar feeling of regret. Why had I done that? What would people think? Would they think I was mad, manipulative, obsessed or over-the-top? What if nobody replied? For various reasons established and confirmed in my early childhood, I have an unshakeable belief that a lack of response equates to rejection, dislike, disdain or humiliation. But the therapy is working well.
I had issued this declaration as a Facebook message; which I then realised has a big “Reply All” button and no “Reply to sender” button. I panicked. What if one of my friends send an embarrassing response to all of my other friends? Maybe one which was dismissive of critical – “you must be mad to think of being published, your writing is incoherent, tedious and shallow”.
Or even worse “my dear beloved friend, I digest your writings 5 times a day between meals to gain the emotional strength and inspiration I need to face the world”. The very thought made me flush with embarrassment. So I quickly issued a “reply all” to ask people not to “reply all”. Then I switched off my computer and hid. In fact, we drove 100 miles away to Preston. Nobody would find me there.
So – my worse fears were confirmed. I only had one reply, and it was a “reply all”. You may have seen it, as you are most likely one of those recipients. Fortunately it was a measured response – “most of your writing seems OK to me . . . it flows reasonably well”. Nothing too extreme there. Phew.
But the more interesting question my correspondent posed was this. ” Why do you want to publish? To make money? To let all your friends know how good a writer you are? Or is it just an expression of feelings and sentiment? Or is it cathartic? ”
I have thought about this deeply. Why does anyone write anything? Why do people draw, paint, lecture, preach, debate, act, sing, strum, fiddle, dress up, model, have cosmetic surgery, wear make-up or talk loudly on trains? All acts of self-expression in front of other people, with varying degrees of artistic merit.
Self-expression, I suggest, has a number of possible motives. The most virtuous – and least likely – is to selflessly employ our God-given talents and gifts to bring pleasure and benefit to other people. Yeah, right.
To make money? Well, that wasn’t my first motivation. If I could earn as much as a writer as I could wrestling with corporate politics, I would give up my day job now and retire to a little cottage by the sea with a lap-top and a camera and a willing wife. Here I would wistfully look out of the window allowing inspiration to flow magically through my eyes and ears into my fingers, composing endless masterpieces of writing like some obsessive genius, pausing only to sip tea and catch up on Coronation Street. Yeah, right.
Lets deal with the elephant in the room. I hate and despise that expression. But it seems apt for the outrageous charge of “to let all your friends know how good a writer you are”. Pffft – how insecure, arrogant, needy and self-centred do you think I am? (rhetorical question only, no replies required and certainly don’t “reply all”). Ok, ok – maybe a little. Hey, we need to please our critics, and nobody would write, draw, paint . . . have cosmetic surgery, talk loudly on trains etc. etc., if they didn’t want to impress people.
So I confess that is a slither of the motivation. But, fortunately, it is not alone. Somewhere inside are things I want to say – not for my own sake, but because they need saying. The wonderful complexity, beauty and mystery of this world needs to be expressed and analysed. The awful pain, misery and ugliness of life needs to be exposed and challenged. Analogies need to be drawn out, metaphors painted, connections connected. What we share as human beings is far far more than what divides us. And much of it is best consumed with a humour sandwich and a wry glass of wine. Comedians would call it observational humour. Then follow through with a serious and hopefully thought-provoking conclusion. Just like this.
The skill is to use precisely the right words. It would be a cliché to say every word is a unique brush stroke on a canvas. But there, I said it, although a writer has infinitely more colours on his palate than a painter. I have joined a poetry forum where feedback can revolve around a capital letter, a comma or a spacing between stanzas. It really is that important. Only the right word and punctuation will do. I don’t believe in synonyms. Or exclamation marks. Or smiley’s. I prefer dots . . .
So – I will continue to write. Because I have truths inside me that want to get outside of me. The deeper ones give birth to poetry, the easier ones emerge through prose. Also because it is a challenge and a skill and feels creative. I will do this every Saturday morning. So feel free to sign up to my blog, feedback, respond, or just enjoy. I don’t need my expressions to impress you . . .