On Writing, and Writing About Writing
"Why do you write?" is a question I get asked a lot, especially as—like many of us out there—I don’t get paid for my words and, therefore, it seemingly holds little merit.
Another is "what do you like to write about", again provoking an answer that can change with the wind. Sometimes I’m feeling inspired by the greats—Hemingway, Atwood, Woolf, or Fitzgerald. I mimic their styles, their plots, and their characters. I read it back through, feeling proud yet also embarrassed that I’ve managed to copy their work.
Other days, I feel spurred on by my own surroundings and experiences. My life is unique, is it not? No one else can write it. I document my mental health, my struggles, and my dysfunctional family woes. It is cathartic, in a way, pouring out your heart onto this blank sheet of paper. Filling it with everything that has ever happened—and fabricating some bits just for fun.
On the flip-side, I can tone it all down. Write a beautiful sensual piece set all in one room based on a character who is just dying to escape my mind, clawing at the innards of my brain.
Sometimes, I have too many ideas and it’s overwhelming to even begin to start writing. Yet, some days I’ll sit at my laptop for hours and hours, wishing the spark to come.
Being a writer is not easy. I write both creatively and in blog or article form. Both forms frustrate me greatly. Some days it feels like a chore. It was perhaps easier at university, when I had the pressure of deadlines or weekly seminars to keep up with. However now, like many, writing is not a "necessary" part of my daily routine, like having a job or doing the laundry is.
Yet, we still put ourselves through it. Even when, ten literary magazine rejections later, it seems like no one gives a damn what we have to say. I follow hundreds of aspiring writers on Twitter, all who Tweet the rise and falls (and believe me, there are more falls) of their literary journeys. We are contending with thousands upon thousands of others out there, attempting to navigate a space which sometimes feels impossible to even enter.
When do you call yourself a writer? When you make some money from it? When you’ve had your work in X many publications? Or even when you spend so many hours of the day writing at a desk/bed/sofa/kitchen table? The line is blurred and very often not taken seriously by others. Truth to be told, I always feel uncomfortable telling others I am a writer—instead, I simply say "I write" or put the ambiguous term "aspiring" before it. It makes it seem less real and perhaps a little part of me knows that if I fail, then it won’t sound too bad. It was only an "aspiration" after all, and we all have those.
I read an essay recently, detailing just how hard it was nowadays for young, middle- and lower-class people to write. In it, they mention someone I’ve already glossed over—Virginia Woolf. She was, unarguably, a pioneer in women’s writing and is still studied extensively throughout the academic literary world. More importantly, her work is still enjoyed by many. However, we should not look to her as a role-model or even an inspiration. Within her work, her characters are wealthy, jobless (through choice) and deal with the now very unreal scenarios of 20th Century England.
As for Woolf herself, she was wealthy too—or at least, had a rich enough husband that she didn’t need to work—and was blessed to have all the time in the world to write. Whilst this abundance of time may have eventually led to her sad and tragic death, she had an upper-hand during her life that many of us can only dream of.
Even when the youth of today have paid all the bills, done all their essays, and pencilled some time into their ever-growing schedules to write, we are bombarded with distractions. Writing is difficult and it takes a lot of thought and control. Isn’t it easier, after a hard day of work/school, to just mindlessly scroll through social media, or waste away the hours on Netflix, or fill our online shopping bags with things we’ll never be able to afford?
Yes, it is. And the introduction of the internet has been both a tremendous asset and downfall for young middle- and lower-class writers across the globe. For, whilst we can now contend with more educated, wealthier peers in anonymised submissions to literary publications, we rarely have the luxury of allowing time to switch-off and write. Indeed, I am writing this now whilst taking a holiday day at work; the weekend has come and gone and I found myself entering Monday having done little "work" beyond a small blog post.
However, the most important thing I’ve learnt in recent months, especially since leaving university and suddenly having to motivate myself to write on a whim, is that you are not alone. The online writing community are by-and-by supportive and the world of Twitter is filled with early, young, energetic, invigorating publications which are screaming out for your work. And whilst I read many a Tweet or a post of people making it—in publications where I often failed to place—I also see many people frustrated, tired, juggling two jobs (for writing is a job in its own respect) and young families, who are actually little different to myself.
In terms of being a young, middle-class, female writer, the opportunities are also expanding. Again, many magazines exclusively only accept those who identify as women. Others say point-blank they don’t want the wispy prose associated with the privilege of Hemingway, or the misogyny that comes with the middle-class Kerouac’s of the world.
There is a space for your voice, for every voice. And that is what has kept me going as I begin my journey to navigate the written world.