I wanted to be a writer. I don’t know what I thought a writer was, or how writing was done – I mean writing aside from agents, publishing, print, publicity and all the rest. I thought you were born a writer and though I know examples of this, I have also seen examples of those who made themselves into writers like Martin Cruz Smith with a score of not quite good enough books before he hit a home run with Gorky Park and never looked back.
Writing is personal, I mean, what you like and don’t like. There are famous and best selling writers I can’t read. The texture tastes as wrong to me as something I don’t want to eat. It’s just wrong. There are translations from languages I don’t speak, so good I can’t see the seams, so bad that they are unreadable to me. This isn’t logical but it suggests that writing is felt as well as read (see “Is That a Fish in Your Ear ?” by David Bellos).
For years, I held wanting to write against my chest like a charm. Never mind what else I did or didn’t do, I aspired to this. Let me say this about myself as a writer:
I am a very good reader.
I didn’t become the writer I thought I wanted to be because the process eluded me. I became a journalist though for years I was described as “not a proper journalist” and that hurt. Apparently I didn’t qualify because I never worked for a provincial newspaper, I didn’t have a degree or do a supplemental diploma in journalism. I just wrote. Sometimes I wrote badly. I can see it. I threw most of my poetry away because it was God awful. Sometimes I did better and I remain my own sternest critic.
It seems to me dismissive, precious and elitist to suppose that there are only certain ways in which you could be a “proper” writer.
What about Arnold Bennett who worked on women’s magazines and in terms of the sense and shape of what he wrote, was more influenced by France than England though he wrote about the Potteries, provincial landlocked Staffordshire ?
Or Edith Wharton who evoked end of the nineteenth century monied middle class America with a pen like a scalpel – to finance the life she wanted to live, her escape from an unsatisfactory marriage and to make sense of the family she came from – which like many of our families, outlived their lives inside her mind.
It was Irma Kurtz who edits the problem page for Cosmopolitan who knocked “not a proper journalist” on the head. “Do you make a living out of writing for magazines, broadcasting and so on ?” she demanded. “Then you are a journalist.” Thank you, Irma.
Then I wanted to be a good journalist, the best |I could be and you learn how to package information by doing it. There are often constraints of space or wordage and it can be a useful discipline to have to think round what you really want to say and (please) avoid cliché. Words and phrases become fashionable, first of all, because they are apt, eventually because they are safe. I dislike it very much. (“Devastated” is a case in point.) We have this magnificent, flexible, rich, big language and half of the people who use it employ less than 20 per cent of it.
I published 3 books (a monograph, a novel and a memoir) all a long time ago and the process of getting into print was exhausting. But one of the reasons that my lovely Linda encouraged me into the blog was because it meant writing and she knew that at some profound level I still wanted to, The blog took me back to the mirror I used to play to from early childhood. I wrote for myself because I believed that, if I was interested and interesting, other people would read it. It’s been a wonderful experience and I’ve done some of my better writing here. I long to be clever and wise and funny, just as in front of the mirror I wanted to amuse and be beautiful ( a person can dream).
I shall never be the writer I wanted to be but I had a consolation prize which was really more like a prize in its own right, not second to anything. And although it’s the strangest experience, funnelling your best efforts through words into a microphone, I was privileged to be heard and responded to.
And life taught me that being intangible was nothing to do with being insubstantial. I had radio. I wrote in the air.