Monday, January 29, 2007

Should you be writing?

A writing jag kept me up past 4:30 this morning, and I awakened a mere four hours after my head finally hit the pillow. I slurped down some restorative Earl Grey tea and stumbled over to several of my morning blog-haunts, ending up at the The Literary Saloon, which pointed me to a thought-provoking piece in Saturday's The Australian in which Jenny Sinclair says:

The only people writing should be those who must write, I scrawl in a notebook as I sit on the side of the running bath while my young son makes duck noises at me.

There is no shortage of people There is no shortage of people who can, with a little encouragement, write. There are lots of skilled craftspeople. Even more say they want to write, and many of those find their way into university courses, adult education or privately run seminars on the novel, genre, short story and importance of plot. Some can write like angels from the outset, others can't write at all, as I've heard for myself in classes I've attended.

This multiplicity of courses promises a way forward, a way into print, possibly even that chimera, a writing career. But desire and training don't equal genius or that je ne sais quoi that allows a writer to connect, to slip refractive glasses over a reader's eyes, to say, "see this". They don't give the writer something to say that can be said in no other way.

What they do is provide toolboxes, and with those toolboxes the vaguely talented often turn out the equivalent of high school carpentry projects: a procession of by-the-numbers breakfast trays and carved wooden animals.

Yow. That sounds a little harsh. But while I wouldn't go so far as to suggest that someone "shouldn't" be writing, I don't understand why anyone who's not driven to write would want to. Writing will tear your heart out, and that'll happen even before you start collecting rejection letters from editors and agents. No matter how long and hard you work, you'll never achieve complete satisfaction. You'll always wish you had more talent or more education or more insight (or, if you're like me, all three). And you'll read opinion pieces by "real" writers (read: better writers than you) and wonder if they're talking about you when they make cracks about paint-by-numbers novels.

Especially on a Monday morning when you're facing a busy day on only four hours' worth of sleep.

Technorati Tags: ,


Laura Vivanco said...

high school carpentry projects: a procession of by-the-numbers breakfast trays and carved wooden animals.

Well, there's a problem with that metaphor. I think it might have worked better if she'd compared a mass-produced breakfast tray and a breakfast tray handmade by a craftsperson. The first is a competent job, but it won't have a lot of originality (beyond the original design, since each mass-produced object starts out with a design which is unique, or at least a little bit different from other objects of the same kind). The mass-produced tray is the equivalent of 'paint-by-numbers' since each product is exactly the same as the others. The second kind of breakfast tray, made by a craftsperson, can be a unique work of art, created by someone who lives for her/his craft.

And then there are those high-school projects. Some of the young people will make a total mess, because they don't even want to be creating the objects at all. Others may have enthusiasm but be so untalented that they almost saw their own fingers off. They may enjoy the idea of making the tray, but no-one else enjoys watching them, and no-one would dare use the tray, in case it spilled hot tea or coffee all over the person carrying it. And then there will be a third group, who show some real talent and enthusiasm, though they won't have reached the level of skill of the experienced craftsperson. They'll make trays and animals which have something interesting about them, even if the craft skills are a bit flawed. Maybe some of those students will go on to become craftspeople one day, or maybe they'll get to a very talented level of amateur level. Either way, what they produce won't be 'paint by numbers'.

It seems to me that there can be lots of different reasons why people write, including, but not limited to
(a) a wish to be rich or, at minimum, make some money.
(b) a desire to immortalise themselves in prose/a wish to be famous
(c) because they have something they really want to share with other people
(d) because they have to get those thoughts and ideas out of their heads and onto paper or the protagonists will nag them

I'm sure there are lots of other reasons.

Rachel Hauck said...

Hi Brenda,

I read the whole article and was left with the feeling of her saying, "unless you're like me, you're really not a writer."

I've read a lot of writers on writing lately and how can any of us say "this thing makes you a writer?"

Sort of arrogant. If you want to write, you write.

If you want to be published, you write enough and endure enough to be published.

Otherwise, it's a hobby and that's cool too.

I agree with you, if you don't want to write to be publish, why would you?

I consider myself a writer, but I don't write 24x7. However, IF I have a deadline, I work 12 - 15 hours a day and think NOTHING of it. In my corp life, I'd have been complaining. ;)

Guess I don't see the need to define it. Write if you want to write.

Brenda Coulter said...

Well said, ladies.