Choices, choices, choices – or, How To Be Your Own Worst Enemy

I’m stuck between two equally appealing choices.  Do I stick with the first draft I’m working on that has finally, after 18 tricky chapters, begun to gather speed and a life of it’s own, or do I set that aside for two or three months and go back to begin rewriting a completed first draft, which I’ve rashly announced will be available to the public by the end of September?

This is not normally a problem for me as I don’t usually work on two books at once.  But this year I’ve had more time for writing and things have got a bit out of hand.  I remember years ago, a writer who wrote two distinctly different series under different names (who was that woman?) used to have two desks, one for each author/series.  She would ‘become’ the appropriate writer, according to which desk she sat down at.  She used the different physical spaces to inform her creative ability.  So does this mean I need a second desk?  I don’t know if I’m the right sort of writer to do that.  I mean, it might work for some of the time, those days when I woke up and I just knew who I was.  But most of the time it just wouldn’t work for me.  If I had two desks, I absolutely know I would end up writing somewhere else completely, because I hate making decisions, i often find it paralysingly difficult to make a decision between two choices.  Maybe it’s because as a Libran I can see both sides of the argument, I’m a pros and cons kind of gal.  The problem with seeing two sides to things is that you never actually get anything done.  Like a rabbit caught in the headlights, you are trapped between two choices.  What I need is for someone to tell me, this is what you’ve got to do.  But then, sometimes, that little rebel in me says to itself, “well, I’m not going to!”

In the end, what happens is that my inner editor pounds the desk (any desk) in frustration and shouts, “just pick one, dammit!”  and so I do, and I get on with it, all the time glancing back over my shoulder and wondering if the other story is greener.  I haven’t got to that stage with this current dilemma yet.  Still got another couple of days of paper shuffling and doubt before that happens.

carries messy mini desk

Why?

Why do Writers Write?

I’ve often asked myself why.  Why do I do this?  Why do you do this?  Why do we spend hours every day – or most days – engaging with the blank screen or blank page and labouring to produce words – words with meaning, emotion, information?  Words.

And why words?  Why not knit, draw, bake, garden, make model planes, breed dogs, or even just do a nine to five Monday to Friday job with a salary you KNOW is going into the bank on a set date, then go home each day and barbecue some steaks or sit in front of the TV or go to a nice restaurant with your family?

I used to think it was just because I was screwed up.  Or because I was an only child and not used to company or because I had to make my own entertainment, or because putting my thought-words into actual vocalised words was hard.  Part of me still thinks this might be true.  Even though I have a family, I’m still a very solitary person.  I don’t mean to be, I don’t even like to be alone that much, but it’s a kind of a habit, I’m used to it.

But that isn’t the whole reason.  And I suspect (haven’t actually checked!) that there are a number of sociable writers out there from large, boisterous families, writers who enjoy engaging with others.  So why do they write?

When asked why as a mother of a growing family, she had stopped writing, Winifred Watson, author of the wonderful ‘Miss Pettigrew Lives For A Day’, said “you can’t write if you’re never alone.”  Watson was a hugely popular author in the 1930s and very successful, but now she is almost unknown.  If she wrote purely for personal fulfilment, then once she was married and raising a family, I can understand that the need to write may have gone, or been satisfied in domesticity.  But for myself and for many writers, I still don’t think this is the whole story.

There is something about creating another world, something about purging myself of all those words that need to be put onto paper.  But it’s not just about escaping reality, not just about unburdening oneself.  Yes, it is often – but not always – a compulsion.  There is an urge to create in an abstract way sometimes, a need to make something with your mind, your hands and then be able to step back and think, ‘yes, I did that’.

There is also a desire to communicate with others.  Often as writers we wonder if other people – our readers – will see and understand the message we are seeking to bring to them, and if they will see it in the same way that we see it.  Often they do not, and they find something new in our words.  Literary Criticism shows that reading is an active process as is perception, and that there are many ‘truths’ hidden in a text.

One well-known writer whose name escapes me at the moment said, when asked why she wrote, said that the question should really be, “why doesn’t everyone?”

The jury is still out on this question.  I think it may be one of those how-long-is-a-piece-of-string type questions.  So I will close with a quote from a book that has been the most influential on my writing career:  Dorothea Brande, whose book ‘Becoming A Writer’ was published in 1924, said this: “A Writer writes”.

End of.