Oh dear, what have I let myself into?
After my latest flash fiction story Prior To This my amigo Y (Yvette Prior) and I had an interesting discussion in the comments with her saying something that resonated with me:
“…And imagining them safely tucked into a drawer reminds me of Emily Dickinson (I guess she tucker her poems away as she wrote to write) – like true writers do – it is in them and they might pause – but they write to write – it is what they do.”
I unthinkingly mentioned an essay I’d written on my MA in Creative Writing mentioning Why I Cannot Not Write. Y and I have had a couple of writerly discussions of late, with her encouraging me to write a top tip for flash fiction writers blog post. While veering away from that, I cannot veer away from this (the following essay).
So, without further ado, and obscuring my face so you cannot see my shameful cringe at the somewhat pretentious tone of my essay (written five years ago in my defence and a lot, A LOT, has transpired since then for me personally), I tentatively post this unbloggy lengthed essay.
WHY DO I WRITE?
Kelvin M. Knight
Semester 3’s lecturers at Northumbria University opened with a bang in September 2013. In the Long Narrative module, lecturer and novelist Andrew Crumey posed the question: Why Do I Write?
Hmm. Lots of strokey beard faces ensued, except from the equal number of ladies on the MA who looked thoughtfully at the ceiling then at each other.
To give us time to think, Dr Crumey showed us John Steinbeck’s words on writers, then he showed us a most interesting video clip from E. M. Forster, arguably one of Great Britain’s greatest novelists (Howard’s End and A Passage To India being the pinnacle of his career) indeed after the latter novel Mr Forster stopped writing. We are privy to his reasons (or not!) in this video clip of an interview from the BBC archives: Why I Stopped Writing Novels . After watching this video there was a stagnant pause in the lecture theatre. In an attempt to get the ball bouncing, I was first to venture my thoughts in the lecture, saying somewhat unemotionally:
‘I write because I cannot not write.’
This rather unconvincing reply played on my mind, made me ponder: I know why I started writing, which part of the United Kingdom I was living in when the literary bug nipped me good and proper, and I can regurgitate my personal statement from my university application form to begin this MA journey, but why do I continue to write?
Over the years I have tried to stop writing, had a week off here and there, even a couple of weeks, but in the end, the beginning, and more often than I would prefer, the middle, catch up with me.
There is a compulsion, bordering on obsession, to spend all of my free time (and substantial chunks of my working life and family life time) jotting in my notebooks story ideas, plot lines, and interesting traits for characters. These notebooks multiply like frogspawn especially the ones I reserve for metaphors and similes (Raymond Chandler would be impressed; however, this transformative addiction could, if I am not very careful and observant, metamorphose me unto the keys on my keyboard (and I am shying away from a Kafka style keyboard, here). I even keep a notebook for those quirky snippets of conversation overheard in the street, on the train, the bus, in the shopping queue, at the school gate (although not so prevalent now but fertile ground at the time). These notes I regularly sift through, and when I can untangle my web of spider scrawl, I find stories breaking free then flying tandem with that fantastical amalgamation of conscious and subconscious mind: the imagination – of which I am both blessed and cursed.
On the Creative Writing MA, a strong theme is the analysing of others’ work then turning the magnifying glass on one’s own writing. I am regularly encouraged to don cap and cape (before the course, I would have been swinging for a cowl and cape) to become a mini Sherlock Holmes and sleuth my strengths and weaknesses. Drilled as we are in these PN techniques, there is always that indescribable ingredient which comes to the fore when I am writing properly, when I am zone bound, when that monkey is well and truly ejected from my back. These moments are momentous. The insights, the startling (yet fleeting) clarity, form the heart of storytelling, are the beat that spurs me on, the rhythm that inspires me to write, probably to my grave.
Despite all this analysis of strengths and weakness, prose is not an exact science, true there are trends, traits, traceable structures, unique voices, scents of genius, but, for me, there is always an element of: Where on earth did that idea come from? and How in heaven’s name did I come up with that turn of phrase?
I think harnessing this unquantifiable element, this magic, is the true reason I write, but writing is only half of the story, part of the battle, what remains is an unquenchable thirst to share this magic with as many people as possible.
Naturally, this now begs a more important question: Why should people invest their precious time and money reading my long narratives?
I would love to know your answers to this question. If you would like to share them, please leave a comment below or paste a link to your blog post below.