A few years ago I had attended a couple of writing workshops, within a few weeks of each other. Both had been with exciting, well-loved writers of the Fantasy genre. Despite being genre-specific, there were many aspects of the workshops that were genre-neutral. One such genre-neutral question was, “Why do you want to write?” In the first workshop, I gave my honest, idealistic but truthful answer, “because it feels primary to me.” A few smirks and rolling of eyes immediately followed, as my face burnt and my instructor shrugged it off, to go into the ‘business’ of it all. In the next workshop, when asked the same question, my flip-and-glib reply was, “because I never learnt to do anything else.” This time, I had managed to entertain. Most laughed, some even clapped. As did my instructor, who said, “Clever, but not correct.” His own answer was, “because you have to. Because you have the urge to say something.” The more acceptable answers by other participants in both workshops were the same. They wanted to “express” themselves, and they loved certain writers and wanted to follow in their footsteps.
Is it necessary to ask yourself why you want to write, just because you’ve decided to? You care enough about it to spend money on it, and allow instructors and peers to critique your work anyway they want to. Writing classes and workshops haven’t been around that long. If you look at the history of literature, they’ve barely been around for 5% of it. Not in a formalised way, certainly. Ever since writing has been invented, it has been a skill. There was a time when people wrote pages and pages of letters, to multiple people for multiple purposes, because that is what they had to do. There was a time when people read books not to appear erudite, but because they wanted to. They actually loved it. Writing exists because reading exists. Writing exists because there is someone to read it. Even if it’s a personal diary, where the only intended reader is the writer himself. Even if it is a novel, where the only intended reader is anybody out in the great unknown.
I can’t ever say that I write to express myself. It sounds a little arrogant to me, for myself. I don’t mean to offend the general writing populace, who are of that ‘express yourself’ view. But, it feels inauthentic to me. Because, even if I do manage to say it, it will always be followed by, who cares about what I want to express?
I don’t want to follow in the footsteps of other writers either. Partly, because it also seems arrogant (again, for myself. I am not criticizing you if that’s how you feel about it) to think I can emulate, to the slightest degree, anybody I’ve ever read. And partly, because I don’t want to. Here, I do agree with another tenet of creative writing literature – find your voice. ‘The Next Jane Austen’ sounds like a great idea on paper but, I’d rather be ‘The One and Only Amrita Sarkar’.
So, why do I write? This time in my life, the practical answer and the idealistic, shall we say, soul answer, converge to say the following – it is the only thing I enjoy doing, that I am good at, good enough IMO, to make a living out of. I write because I enjoy writing. I enjoy putting words on a blank page, erasing them, putting them back again, until I see something that starts to have a life of its own. I don’t want to express myself in writing because I don’t want my writing to be about me. I have given more than enough of ‘me’ to this blog anyway, but try running a blog steadily for a year and then tell me what you do when you find yourself running out of ideas nearly everyday.
I’ve been thinking about joining a creative writing course. Primarily because I want to get serious and be committed to writing. I want to stop making excuses and be in an atmosphere where writing something and getting it done is the only option. I haven’t worked out the logistics yet. The where, how and when of it all. I am usually a DIY kind of person when it comes to most things, but I need some external motivation. As most of you know, writing courses don’t come cheap and can’t ever guarantee success, which in my case is quite mercenary – I want to write well enough to make a living out of it. Now, is that a good enough answer for a writing class?
Why do you write?