I never take writing for granted.
I write mostly on Sunday and I call it my homework, it shapes the day. But Sunday is the chosen day because it is followed by Monday and if I can’t write on Sunday, I have time to have another go. Can’t write isn’t evasive, that is to say, I don’t have a better offer, an invitation I couldn’t refuse – well, not so far – but it means what it says. I can’t write.
I think, put words and ideas together but I don’t like what I get. It just isn’t right. And I write – if not to please myself – at least so I can live with the consequences.
Not everything I write is wonderful. But it has to pass some test with me that I would be hard pressed to define but which is real. Interestingly sometimes what I worry most about pleases you best. It all comes down to personal taste and everybody is different.
In conversation there is all kinds of information and colour – the voice, the face, the hands, the mannerisms,
the use of language, what we’re talking about, your position and mine, their similarity and difference – essentially, the exchange. Written is different – there is no second voice – and you will read it differently because you are different, one from another. Thank God, long may it be so. I am not charmed by the enormous groups, tribes I call them, to which so many seem to want to belong. I confess to ambivalence about wanting to belong anywhere.
If I am really lucky, I can evoke the spoken in the written. Believe me, I have done a lot of both and they are not the same thing.
Sometimes the very act of writing reveals something you didn’t know you thought or felt. This is personal because I do the writing
and it’s nothing to do with 150 words against the clock or any kind of competition, except I’d like to win your attention, merit it and pass muster for having taken your time. For years now.
As a journalist, you were always directed to particular points in the story under consideration, the requirements of the particular publication for whom you were being briefed. Not having any of that has been nothing but an experience of growth for me. There was nothing I couldn’t try to do and because feedback is more to do with quality than quantity, I was thrown back on personal taste and professional honesty.
“All very well – but does it work as a piece ?” is the kind of question an editor might ask – in this case, my internal editor.
I know what I like to read and for the most part, why I like to read it. I know what I don’t like to read and for the most part why. I can’t read just because it’s there. I understand a journalist writing six hundred words of tripe in order to be paid. It’s called earning a living and I am fortunate that I didn’t do much of it for whatever reason. Those on my side will invoke gifts taking me above and beyond that, those against me will say “unreconstructed snob” and both are true.
There is no question that writing is aspirational for me – I write to write, yes fine, but I write to write better and I am miserable when I can’t or don’t. And who judges me ? Me – and I’d back my taste in most things.
It’s no good saying “Well nothing happened last week” because a true writer can make something out of not very much but you have to be careful you don’t disappear up your own fundament in a cloud of pretension. And the fallback position is all too often a list of what’s wrong with the world, especially my bit of it. Unless you are fortunately funny, that risks being one more downer in a world horribly full of them.
So I have taken a broadcasting trick and used it in print. I have been asked “Did you ever run out of things to say ?” – and of course I did. “So what did you do ?” I admitted it – which made for a different starting point.
Just as I wrote this.