I haven’t been writing much lately. Strike that. I have been writing. Emails. Tweets. Shopping lists. My job in social media requires that I write about 1500 words of content a day – I fire out aphorisms and axioms, trade in puns and something passing for wit, and publish reams of writing for an audience of over a million people with the click of a return key.
But it’s anonymous, and though not meaningless, it’s weightless when compared with the long-form, lyrical and lasting type of writing to which I aspire. It doesn’t carry the gravitas I crave, or the recognition that bylines and names on book spines bring with them.
Creatively, I feel spent. I’ve barely strung a sentence together in months. Good intentions have become best-laid plans and projects undertaken sit unfinished and gathering whatever the digital equivalent of dust is.
So this a reminder of why I write. Why I want to write. What I seek when I write. What I hope to accomplish with it.
The writing stalemate has occurred because I have found and erected barriers. I have found the time, but not known where to begin. I have perpetuated deceptions that writing ought to be devoured and digested and dissected or commissioned and requested to be completed. That writing without a purpose, or an endgame isn’t writing at all.
So this manifesto is an indulgence. It’s just for me. It’s going to be unapologetic and an unforgivable exercise in navel-gazing. And perhaps because I’m publishing it on my blog and promoting it on social media, it’s self-defeating and hypocritical.
But right now, in this moment, I’m writing it to write again. I’m writing it for me.
For a few months now, I’ve been looking for permission and payment, rather than revelling in the process and pleasure of writing. I have been pitching and peddling. Squeezing ideas into captivating titles and condensing the sheer wilderness of writing – its limitlessness, go-anywhere-ness, its John-Cusack-holding-a-boombox-atop-his-head-say-anything-ness – into a cage, a count and the conciliation of contribution. And I have taken rejections as an excuse not to.
They’re not letting me. I don’t have anything to write.
That has put pin in pen many times.
But writing doesn’t always have to be a contribution. It shouldn’t have to make up a larger tapestry, or a thematic exploration. It can be an expression of a fleeting thought. It can exist in the here and now and be just because.
It’s thrilling to see words you have written accepted and published by someone else. You’ve been admitted to a club, you have a surpassed a gatekeeper. You are good enough. This time. I write for acceptance and accomplishment and attention. Sometimes. I write because I can. Because I can do it well. And people say so. But people also say no, so it can’t be the only reason. Writing exists well before its destination, so you have to find a reason to go on that journey.
I write because I think. I write to exist. Because it matters to me, perhaps more than it should, to be remembered. I write because sometimes it pours out of me like hot coffee from a cafetiere and because in those moments I can’t think of anything else I’d rather be doing.
Writing is both salve and chasm.
In this wearisome and whelming age, writing is curative. It is a slowing down and pausing to think. It’s the breath you take between each stroke swam.
I was reading an article in The Times written by Laura Freeman on literature as meditation. She writes,
“We live in a mindful age where meditation is promised as the cure to all our Insta-ills….The problem is not that we are exhausted by a rushing world. Many of us are under-stimulated by days spent poring over emails and Excel, and then over-stimulated by nights full of twittering screens. What we lack isn’t silence, it’s sustenance. Something for starved imaginations to feast on.”
To read good writing is a joy unparalleled. It is an Eden. A quieting of aches and afflictions. A broadening of mind. A burrow of warmth and safety. A sublime expanse of scenery from the comfort of a sofa. It’s shaking your head in astonishment and nodding in agreement.
I write to be that good. To give back what I’ve taken.
I write because writers are my heroes. (Call that a God-complex or ‘big dick energy’ but it’s the truth). I write because its my aspiration to be an inspiration.
I write because on the invite list to my fantasy dinner party there would be Joan Didion, Rebecca Solnit, Naomi Klein, Toni Morrison, Jonathan Franzen, Annie Proulx, Maggie Nelson, Richard Yates, Sarah Manguso, Nora Ephron, Ta-Nehisi Coates, Simone De Beauvoir, Daniel Woodrell, Claudia Rankine, Sarah Moss.
I write to be invited to fantasy dinner parties.
I write to be seen and heard.
My writing says, in between all its jammed in adjectives and compound sentences, I am here, I am alive.
But within writing lies the possibility to be misunderstood. To be heard and not listened to. To be seen, but ill-framed. To be judged. And harshly so. To be rendered more invisible by having written in the first place. Writing can create a fissure, a cleft, a canyon. It can put colour to an idea, but if you think something is blue and someone else reads it as green, writing can be divisive.
There is beauty in that. Writing is chromatic and contradictory and if we all saw things the same way wouldn’t life be boring? Etc etc.
But there is risk in writing. It’s like saying I love you for the first time. It’s a feeling inside of you that needs to come out, that only in verbalising and iterating and claiming can it feel true and only in the saying of it can you expect reciprocation. Silent I love yous are always regretted. There is joy in being declarative and decisive. Only then can you hear the words I feel that too. I think that too. I love you too. And yet…
And yet and yet and yet and yet
This is a chorus that threatens to drown out many dreams. In between every verse of victory, in doing something you feel proud of, there is this.
And yet, it could go wrong. And yet, they might not feel the same.
The I love you can linger in the air, unreturned and the silence of being unloved in that moment is bruising, deafening, squalid.
Writing that is misread feels the same.
In many academic essays I had the phrase I’m not sure what you are trying to say here scrawled in red next to a brutally dense and ambitious paragraph that contained so much but probably said very little. And yet every time I saw it I felt sick. I felt like crying.
I write for clarity. And I had been ambiguous. Or at least, and I often felt this at university, I had expressed something in the way I wanted to, but not in the way it was meant to be written. Meant as in according to marking guidelines and academic architecture. Rubrics and frameworks and and fretworks I had failed to exist within and comply with.
There is a profile in The New York Times that recently came out, written by Taffy Brodesser-Akner on the frankly, phenomenal Jonathan Franzen.
“He’d been surprised at how some of those essays were received in the world…Had they even read the work? Had they fact-checked? Ultimately, it didn’t matter. He had to look at those essays again. A writer doesn’t write to be misunderstood.
And yet how does one respond? Those incidents, which have come to number many, had begun to precede him more loudly than his proudest contributions to the world: his novels, which number five….people don’t seem to understand him or his good intentions — that she can’t figure out when exactly they all turned on him. “
Writing can skate a thin line. Writing is both salve and chasm.
I write to give purpose and structure to a day. To put reins on an imagination that has only ever known how to run wild. It soothes the sensation that a wordless day, albeit a lived one, is a wasted day.
“How was your day?”, my housemate (and so much more, this label is a callous précis of her true function to my sanity) always remembers to ask.
“Good. I got some writing done” comes the all too scarce reply.
But that’s my definition of good. Of productive. Of fulfilling. I am content with a day that produces a handful of sentences, a cluster of prose that contains within in it the power to placate. I write to humour myself. To be able to tell myself I did something honest and worthwhile. Whether it becomes that remains to be seen.
My writing is a work in a progress. Just as I am. But it’s the only construction I want to devote myself to (right now). It is my Sagrada Família.
I write to learn. I write to self-improve.
Therein lies the issue with writing – it’s a lonely pursuit. And a selfish one. You can write to be read and you can write for an audience – therein lies its nobility and magnanimity – but its presumptive to be writing that way.
I currently do not have the privilege (though I possess a lot of others) of assuming that my work will be read, so to write for those reasons is futile.
I write for myself. I have to.
And so it’s self-centred. An exercise in narcissism. I spend hours a day forming thoughts and thinking they’re special enough to be documented. What a life the writer’s life is! You lock yourself away, retreat, scarper from family suppers and make excuses not attend social gatherings because you have to write. And it’s a discipline. To commit to it is to turn down other adventures and pleasures. To devote yourself to you and the words you want to say. You can’t be a writer without having written something.
This is a quandary that plagues me. I can’t call myself a writer. Perhaps I should. But it feels disingenuous.
What have you written? People would ask.
I wouldn’t be able to name something they had read. So although I don’t write to be read, you have to be read to be a writer. At least that’s how it feels. Those are the rules of the game.
I would be lying if I said I didn’t write to be writer. That’s the ambition. But in the meantime, whilst it doesn’t compel a salary and serves only as a side-hustle, I write to tell stories. In order to live. I write to live my best life.
I write because it’s my jam. And bread and butter (though we established not in the monetary meaning; it brings all the insides together.) It’s chicken soup in the miserable midst of a cold or a cup of tea on the top of a snow-capped mountain. It’s the first robin spotted on the cusp of winter. It’s a pair of jeans that slide on like a dream and caress your hips but don’t gape at the waist. It’s getting a text back you’ve been pining for. It’s a new kitten. It’s blowing out candles on a birthday cake to the symphony of gathered friends commemorating you. It’s feeling the sun on your back as if thawing your spine. It’s falling asleep in a park and having nowhere to be. It’s waking up in the morning to absence of alarm. It’s a bowling strike. It’s a penalty scored. It’s a home run. It’s an impetuous, top-of-your-lungs-windows-down-sing-song in the car. It’s the first lick of an ice cream, the smoothness a surprise for your tongue. It’s making the last train home, panting with irrepressible relief that your legs had the strength to see you through. It’s the cat with the hearts in his eyes emoji. It’s a gifted book with a note written on the first page.
It’s being told I love you too.
It is nourishment and reprieve. It is both palliative and restorative.
I write because it’s hard and they say anything worth doing is.
I write because it makes me happy.
“I write to give my life a form, a narrative, a chronology; and, for good measure, I seal loose ends with cadenced prose and add glitter where I know things were quite lusterless. I write to reach out to the real world, though I know that I write to stay away from a world that is still too real and never as provisional or ambivalent as I’d like it to be.”
– André Aciman, The New York Times
“Writing is finally a series of permissions you give yourself to be expressive in certain ways. To invent. To leap. To fly. To fall. To find your own characteristic way of narrating and insisting; that is, to find your own inner freedom. “
– Susan Sontag, The New York Times
“In many ways writing is the act of saying I, of imposing oneself upon other people, of saying listen to me, see it my way, change your mind.”
– Joan Didion, The New York Times
“Groping through the dark is, in large part, what writing consists of anyway. Working through and feeling around the shadows of an idea. Getting pricked. Cursing purity. Threshing out. Scuffing up and peeling away. Feral rearranging. Letting form ferment. Letting form pass through you…Writing is losing focus and winning it back, only to lose it once more. Hanging on despite the nausea of producing nothing good by noon, despite the Sisyphean task of arriving at a conclusion that pleases.”
– Durga Chew-Bose, Too Much and Not the Mood