Now, I do love me a challenge, as anyone who’s followed the last two years of Rolling Stone Challenge tomfoolery will attest, so I couldn’t help but jump at the little baited hook that the delightfully hirsute Chuck Wendig posted over at terribleminds the other day.
The challenge – 1000 words on the subject ‘why I write.’ So here goes.
Why do I write? Well there’s a number of different ways to answer that, so let’s have a root around under the bonnet of my psyche, and see if we can get to the bottom of this.
I write because of an obscure electro indie pop duo from the 1990’s.
Picture the scene: It’s the early 1990’s. People across the United Kingdom are wearing varying shades of day-glo fabric that looks more flammable than is strictly advisable; Noel’s House Party is still the pinnacle of televisual entertainment in the country; and the Tories are riding the bloated corpse of Thatcherism right into the ground and taking the economy with it.
Meanwhile, at one of the more prestigious boarding schools in the country, a boy with hair that refuses to resemble anything other than an unwashed mop-head sits in his dorm, indulging his favourite pastime of blocking out everything and everyone in the world through judicious use of headphones.
In his stereo is a collection of b-sides and rarities by electro-indie pop duo Carter: The Unstoppable Sex Machine. For those of you unfamiliar with their oeuvre, they wrote songs of working class life that were both hilarious and poignant, like Pulp without the art school tendencies played on cheap Casio keyboards and backed by a crappy drum machine. Somewhere on the compilation is a song called ‘Granny Farming in the U.K.’
The boy (did you guess that it’s me yet?) hears this song, a downbeat look at how we treated the elderly in this country (spoiler alert, it’s not improved much) and for no particular reason that he can think of, he take out a pad and a pen and starts to write a short story. It’s about a young man who goes to work at an elderly care home and is horrified by the brutality he sees there, so he gets the place shut down. Cheery, huh? That’s a normal thing for a 15 year old boy to write, right?
To this day I have no idea why I wrote that first story, but I know that it was followed by other stories, and not long after I knew that words were how I wanted to make my living. I’ve yet to fulfil that, but the fact that we’re two decades on from that rather odd impulse and I’m still working at it means I must have been on to something when I picked up that pen.
I write because kids are mean.
Remember how I said my favourite pastime at school was blocking everything and everyone in the world through judicious use of headphones? That was because I was, like so many people, pretty badly bullied for a time. It was pretty unpleasant, as these things are, but I can look back on that time and marvel at just how much of my psyche was cemented during that period.
During that period I discovered that hiding in a bathroom for an entire weekend with only books for company was actually a pretty good use of my time, I developed a love of music that still borders on the sociopathic, and grew an empathy that I think has served me pretty well ever since.
It’s this empathy that I think most drives me as a writer. I may have quickly left the stories about elderly abuse behind and moved swiftly into the realms of genre fiction, but when I look back on pretty much everything I’ve written there is a strong vein of social commentary running through it. I think that stems back to that original story, and the events that rooted me in this bizarre inclination to put words on paper for others to read.
The other thing I got from that time was my incredible sense of humour. I mean, am I right? *cymbal crash* Oh, wait, I didn’t put a joke there. RETRACT THE CYMBAL CRASH.
If you ask most comedians why they became funny, you’ll get the same answer back from them. Because kids are mean. If you find yourself in the unenviable position of being unpopular throughout your childhood, you have to go away and work out a way to get people to stop being a complete dick to you, and the quickest, truest method of doing that is to make them laugh, because it’s hard to hate someone who makes you laugh. Now, I’m not saying that I’m a veritable <insert name of funny person of your choice here> but my writing has always aimed to make you laugh as well as give you those ‘feels’ that the kids talk about on Tumblr these days.
I write because of the voices.
So that’s the origin story, all of which tells you why I wrote, but not why I write. Damn. Is it too late to go back? So why do I still write, all these years later? The short answer is I honestly don’t know, but I know I have to. I don’t actually have voices, or anything, but something sure as hell sits me in that chair in my utility room.
I’ve had periods in my life when I kind of gave up writing and others when I called myself a writer without actually doing any writing, but since I had children my desire to make something of this inherently ridiculous hobby has grown, and now I’m on the cusp of ‘actually doing the thing.’
Last year I discovered self-publishing as a concept. After years of some fairly half-hearted subbing my fairly uninspiring manuscript to agents and comps and endlessly editing the first three chapters of it, something in my head clicked and I realised the only thing between me and being a writer was me. So I killed evil me with a crossbow. Not really. Instead, I made a decision. I gave myself a year and a bit to get my shit ready to publish. If I couldn’t do that then I should just give up.
It worked. My half-formed manuscript gave way to a working draft. Then a second draft. Then a third, and it grew a little brother. Come the end of the year, I’ll be ready to launch my first novel at the world like a man flinging a nest of angry hornets into his back garden and hoping they don’t stream back in through the kitchen window to kill him.
Hopefully all of you will then buy it, and I’ll float away on a cloud of dreams and cash money. Or, I’ll release a second book and start to build an audience the hard way.
So, to answer the question:
Why do I write? Because I’m a writer.
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