Atomic essay #8 - Why I write

I am writing now, and it is damned hard.

Atomic essay #8 - Why I write
Photo by Florian Klauer / Unsplash

I am writing now, and it is damned hard. I wouldn't go so far as to say I hate most of what I write, but it's like when I used to record my voice onto tape as a child – I wince at the replay. Not always: sometimes, I catch myself self-congratulating, but that seldom lasts. Moments like those I find are little markers to warn where my writing might be overblown, or self-satisfied, or style-over-substance.

I hate writing, sometimes. And yet I am drawn to it. I loved writing as a child and I do not remember a time at which I didn't want to do it. I ended up, directionless though I was at that period, doing Creative Writing with English at university. I write a blog, though it took me a devil of a time to get started with it; I'm now writing a blog post every day for 30 days, of which this is one. Along the way I have started (and often abandoned) short stories, playscripts, teleplays, novellas, short stories and poems. All of them were, at least in part, exercises in frustration. I would type furiously at 2 a.m., surfing the liar's wave of a 'breakthrough', only to find the whole thing a wipeout the next morning.

It's only recently that I've started to think about and question why I write; I suppose it has come as a part of my thinking about and questioning everything recently. I can't remember where I read this, but I came across this simple sentence and it stuck with me as at least one of the reasons I now write:


I think a lot. Too much, and too many thoughts at once. They have a tendency to stick to each other into one big unmanageable clog when they're inside my skull. Writing helps separate them out. One word at a time. I find, too, that the act of writing isn't so much the result of my thinking anymore as it is the thinking process. As I write, I process meaning anew. This feels true for me; your mileage may vary.

The act of writing, then – for me – is the act of trying to work things out. I have to externalise the internal; I have to get it in front of my eyes. When my grandfather was dying, I did not know what to do. By this, I mean I did not know what I was feeling or thinking. I had a vague notion that I should – and I cared greatly for the man – but I was trapped as if in amber. Late one night I sat down to write. I wasn't sure what, but something needed to come out. What came to me was the image of my grandfather's hand. By the end, it was the only part of him that he could still move. I could not get it out of my head. And I thought of all the times that hand had been held by my grandmother. And that's what I wrote: a series of short vignettes, connected by the image of the hand.

He died not long after I wrote it.

Why do I bring this piece up now? Because, though I didn't realise it at the time, I used writing – needed writing – to help me think, and feel, and remember. And, also, writing lends a permanence to things, or at least the illusion of permanence. David Eagleman wrote:

There are three deaths: the first is when the body ceases to function. The second is when the body is consigned to the grave. The third is that moment, sometime in the future, when your name is spoken for the last time.

I think, on reflection, I wanted to preserve him in the text. Perhaps. I write because I want to make things real. I want to communicate what's in my head so it can be thought about by others, and challenged. I write because I want to get better at writing, and therefore thinking. And often the idea of exposing my own thinking to people out there terrifies me, but I feel I must do it, lest I be doomed to think forever the same things, and live only my own life. Writing is an act of empathy; for me, it encourages me to think of others and how they might think, feel and respond. Not only this, but it is a reaching out, an invitation to others.

Someone reading this might, like me, be writing and doubting. Might be afraid of publication, for that way mockery, judgment and condemnation might lie. To you – if that's you – I would invite you to show your work. The worst case is you're wrong.

And what a glorious thing to be wrong. Because the next step is, through more thinking and writing, being a little less wrong.

And repeat.