The winter’s day of our discontent

flowers in sunshine

It was one of those glorious winter days when it actually feels like spring: cherry blossoms beside the path, birds all a’flitter, wattle in bloom, sun just a touch too warm and bright coming through the leaves … It was a joy to be outside.

It was the kind of day that makes it all the harder to turn one’s back to the window and take up, yet again, the keyboard. Not for the first time, I found myself asking, why am I doing this? Shouldn’t I be driving to Dromana for lunch or picnicking in the park or trying to find someone’s dog to take for a walk? A simple beer garden would do justice to a day like this. Some rhythm n blues by the bay, hell yes.

But here I am in my imaginary world, a world that no one else might ever get to see.

Why writers write is one of those topics that surfaces every so often, often followed closely by the observation that most folks believe that they can write: I’d like to write a book one day. Or, as Dmetri Kakmi confronted in a recent blog post, ‘I might be a bit of a writer myself’.

jack nicholson in the shining

All work and no play . . .

The post was an eloquent and passionate defence of writing as art, or at the very least, vocation. In it, he posits that writers write because if they don’t, they’ll die. I get that. I tried to stop. I couldn’t. The voices just wouldn’t leave me alone, and my ego wouldn’t let them lie still on the page: I just wanted to share. Sorry about that. But hey, there’s always room for one more outback vampire story, right? RIGHT?

Louise Cusack has offered some insight into what drives writers: why they use this medium to express themselves, to find a sense of belonging, to explore their world . . .

Which leads to, why do we write what we write? These days, there is a real sense that writing can be a business: churn out the product, score big with throughput. McDonald’s for the literarily inclined. Hey, it’s a market: go for it. Not many jobs allow you to indulge your super spy / princess bride / secret life from home in your pyjamas and get paid for it.

My only caveat there: at least learn the trade craft. I expect my plumber to know his tools; I expect my authors to know theirs. The art / industry grey area does not excuse ignorance: take a grammar course FFS.

So, do we write the stories that so attracted us to reading in the first place? I know that a large part of what motivated me to seek publication of my writing was my perception of an absence of the stories I liked to read, set in my own country. Why did all these wonderful adventures have to happen in England or America? Why didn’t these people speak my language? Why did I have to translate their idiom to enjoy stories such as these? Snow at Christmas: WTF? Snow: WTF? (I have since experienced snow. I can see the attraction, but still: WTF?)

dr frankenstein and his monster

It's alive! Mouhahaha!

I suspect many writers — the ones who see the craft as art or vocation, not just a money-spinner (and good luck with that) — get over that, grow bored with that little pond and go diving out into the wider ocean of possibilities. New genres, cross-genres; new platforms. New voice, new style, new terrain.

They choose challenge over comfort, for both themselves and their readers. They’ve probably got something to say, and are seeking new ways to say it.

Of course, finding a publisher who will want to take the risk on their talent spreading their wings, threatening to erode that almost mythical beast known as ‘the readership’ (you know it; it demands on pain of excommunication from its hip pocket the next book right now damnit!) … economic rationalism vs art. E-publishing to the rescue?

There’s also a certain masochism in the writing game: parties missed, friends and family neglected, sunshine lost. All for the sake of the art. Or the job, if you think of it like that. The two probably aren’t mutually exclusive, but there might be some compromise in there. I don’t think anyone should be neglecting friends and family, not for art and not for job. Life’s too short. That’s the discipline, to not only write the work, but to not write the work. To make time for the important people who also deserve our attention.

flagellants

Not tonight, darling. I have to, um, write.

So why write? It’s a largely anti-social and self-absorbed way to make a crust — if you’re lucky. It is, contrary to popular supermarket aisle opinion, not easy to deliver a well-crafted read: writing, editing, publishing, marketing.

Bottom line: writing is fun. Taking that intangible inner life and transferring it onto the page for others to share and transfer into their own inner life (the creation of multiverses). Arranging and rearranging the words into the ideal form, so that the form itself is pleasing as well as the world so created. Playing god with the benefit of a backspace key. And all the richness of language, a global pool of knowledge and culture, to draw from. And I mentioned the pyjamas, right? Right.

It’s worth missing a few days of sunshine. The question remains, though: how many? Maybe until it ceases to be fun. Maybe, that depends on some personal formula of discipline, external commitments, expectation and pragmatism.

And maybe that comes down to who we write for. To what we want to receive from our writing: a few hours of distraction or escape; a pat on the back — from anyone; a pat on the back from someone we admire; filthy lucre; a warm inner glow. All of the above. Louise says,

Many writers have gone to their graves without ever having published a book, perhaps never having shown their work to another soul, which sounds terrible and tragic, and it would be if they’d tortured themselves about that. But that only matters if the showboat part of us is the important part. What if the thing that counts most is the creation of the story, the liberation of the characters from whatever pocket of imagination they’ve been hiding in, out onto the page or the screen?

There’s probably some analogy about trees falling in forests and stories unread in there somewhere, but it’s a nice day. The kind that provokes rambling, not just in the outdoors but on the page as well (so it seems). So I might go smell the roses. I’ll call it research, or recuperation, or downtime or somesuch.

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6 thoughts on “The winter’s day of our discontent

  1. ‘Playing god with the benefit of a backspace key.’ Love that. Another thought-provoking post, Jason. Maybe the fact that I neglect my writing more often that not should tell me something. I’m not sure I have what it takes. Anybody who thinks being a writer is easy has clearly never tried it. I hope you keep at it though. Yours is a gift that deserves to be shared.

  2. Onwards and upwards, Paula! Novel-writing in particular is a long-term practice; life does get in the way, priorities shift. But the voices, those damned insistent voices!

  3. Yes, those beautiful insistent voices. I’d miss them if they weren’t around. I guess that says it all.

  4. This was a very cool post – as was Dmetri’s and Louise’s. All very different.

    Earl Livings said to me last year (I paraphrase), “You know you’re a writer if – no matter what happens in your life, even if you stop for a while – you keep coming back to writing.”

    I think writers who don’t write are heading for dysfunction.

    I kind of both agree and disagree with Dmetri with regards to writing courses. No course can give you more talent than you have. They can put you through your paces with grammar and punctuation, give you a basic kit for understanding how publishing works, and expose you to works of literature you might not have otherwise stumbled upon. It can be a safe environment to be young to the craft – it can also be really damaging, if you get bad teachers. There are failed writers who are teaching without really having a reverence for what a gift a good educator is, especially in the arts. (Other areas of the arts are full of this type.)

    The best education a writer can hope to find is in books, and in ones own dogged drafting. (Every good teacher will agree.)

    I like the idea of some writing being for practice. Every other art form requires it. Musicians make ugly awkward noises in the practice room, and it is the only way to push ones technique out, and create a more beautiful sound. I think writers benefit from remembering that they make practice noise too.

    I think discipline is crucial.

    I also think looking out is important. A selfish artist loses levity and perspective that can help one get through the highs and lows of publishing, and any delusions that you can control the ride. (As Bon Scott wrote, “If you wanna be a star of stage and screen – Look out! It`s rough and mean!”) And, well, it just isn’t nice to always hold ones craft above everyone else. The way you’ve written about this is cool – very relaxed Jason Nahrung style.

    And now I must be off! To make ugly practice noises in both categories.

  5. Wow, Talie, you’ve written a blog post in reply to my blog post! And very well, as always. It sure is a long way to the top if you want to write (and rock!) 😉 — some are scramblers, others mountain goats, and yet others are eagles (and maybe vultures).

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