Why Write?

Sebastian works full time and part-time as a freelance journalist. He wrote for five years the Secret Agent column in the Financial Times (www.ft.com/secretagent) and currently writes a monthly column for both Country Life and the London Magazine and a weekly blog for Spears. He’s working on a novel with the help of the Kingston MFA. Today he considers why we bother to write at all.
As I sit at my kitchen table, hot water and lemon beside me, light emerging through the remnants of the night-time sky, my lap-top faces me.  It’s 7am and I try and bring my mind to focus willing the words onto the screen.  Recently risen from bed I let reverie remain and there my fingers seamlessly flow across the keyboard and surprise me with their astute brilliance.  It’s not so.  Inevitably my gaze is distracted; I scan the room, Stephen King’s ‘On Writing’ holds what seems like a prominent position on my bookshelf, as if to censure me.  His rigid discipline an example not easily followed.
There are times when one feels like writing and times when it feels like work.  And when you have a day job and struggle to achieve the zen-like nirvana of ‘balance’ it becomes about priorities.  If your writing is informed by observation and social commentary it’s important to be part of the world I tell myself; and this means socialising, eating out, going to see ‘Argo’ in order to comment reliably on Ben Affleck’s Iran hostage film.
It’s so much harder if relying on the imagination – to inhabit a parallel world of science fiction adventure, Cromwellian London or anywhere that takes us away from the here and now.  Or so I believe – but this could be that like many things different, in that vaguely self-flagellating manner we have, it’s because we’re incapable of accomplishing them that we admire them.  I remember my godmother some summers ago taking issue with me as I marched through an Italian city ticking off the tourist list – a Brunelleschi church, Piero della Francesca fresco, Donatello sculpture and some celebrated gardens.  ‘Why do you rush like this?’  She questioned while I wanted to ask what she’d achieved as she’d sat consuming a diet of espressos and Marlboro cigarettes for the last three hours.  My question was implied as she continued, ‘I’m a student of anthropology, I like to sit and observe, that’s how I learn.’  And I’ve come to understand the importance of that.
Observing is one thing but translating that into the written form is something else.  Why do we do this?  To share experience; to make a living; to educate; to entertain; to exorcise; to challenge; for personal development; as a creative outlet and so the list continues, morphing to the out-reaches of reason, need and desire.  I admire those who can write just for themselves – who don’t need the validation of acknowledgement – because it feels fraudulent to me as if the value of my words are somewhat diminished.  It’s wrong and a guilty truth but the needy in me requires affirmation.  So as I sit, I wonder why and what’s the point, in these busy lives we lead.  All of us who are endeavouring to try have our own reasons.  I return to E.M. Forster’s epitaph in Howards End ‘Only Connect’.  The universal emotions that hold us together and make us human; the sentence we read that expresses something in a way we’d never thought of before but which we implicitly understand.  The feelings and thoughts that bind us as human beings, that broaden our minds, speak of our differences and our similarities.  And so I tap on in the hope of achieving the smallest iota of connection.

1 Comment (+add yours?)

  1. Lisa Davison
    Feb 15, 2013 @ 12:38:44

    Great post! I really identify with the challenges that Sebastian discusses here.


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