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Thursday, 6 September 2012

What Drives a Writer?

Those of us who write, do so for a variety of reasons. I know of people who write entirely from a desire to make money. Others are driven to write about themselves, to tell the world about their exciting, boring, amazing, average, fantastic or mundane lives. Many are looking to put ideas into words, to explain to the world why things are as they are. Some are impelled by a deep desire to put things right, to educate those they see as unaware of what they believe to be important factors. And some simply love the idea of telling stories; entertaining, moving, amusing, scaring, arousing or exciting their readers.

Johnson famously said that anyone who wrote other than for money was a blockhead. I must be a blockhead, then. Money has never been a driver for me, in writing or any other aspect of my life. It’s a necessary evil, of course, in the commercial world we inhabit, but, as a driver, it’s empty and unfulfilling. So, I’m happy if my books sell. But I’m happier still if people enjoy what I’ve written.

I belong to that last class of writers in the first paragraph. But, and it’s an important ‘but’, I’m also compelled to write. There is deep within me the need to write. In fact, if I don’t write, don’t create something, on a regular basis, I feel unwell and unsettled. It’s as if my creative needs begin to pile up and block my channels to good health. I always feel better when I’ve written something new. So, I guess you could say that I write because I have to. But that doesn’t mean I see it as a duty or a chore.

I love words; always have. I love the way they can be played with to bring about so many different reactions. I hate the misuse of words, the easy option that results in cliché. Because I love words, as a tool and a means of expressing and conveying emotion, I also read, of course. Frankly, any writer who doesn’t read is doing both himself and his readers a disservice. How can any craftsman improve without input from others?

My imagination is my greatest asset; it’s a thing almost apart from me, feeding me with ideas and characters, situations and plots almost without any conscious direction, it seems. Imagination is what forms the core of my stories. But, as is always the case with anything of worth, there’s more than one component involved in the making of my tales. I have drives that are formed from a combination of my experiences, education, up-bringing, moral stance, interests and relationships. Those with well-developed perceptual powers will be aware that I care very much about justice, real love, fairness, intelligence, creativity and talent. As a corollary, I naturally loathe injustice, superficial attraction, ignorance, destructive force and dullness. These aspects inform my writing.

But, I write mostly to entertain and amuse my readers. I want to move, excite, shock, scare, arouse, anger, surprise, divert, cheer, sadden, jolt, soothe and amaze. Of course, having a proselytising nature (many of those who know me say I should have been a teacher), I also want to educate and persuade. In my early writing, this desire to convert readers to my point of view overrode the entertainment in my work. It took time for me to realise that readers of fiction don’t want to be lectured. A writer has to be far more subtle than the preacher standing in the pulpit before a congregation willing to swallow his message. So, I now keep the themes that drive me as just that; themes.

I’m fortunate in that I have a clever and honest wife who quickly spots any movement toward my urge to preach. And my writing group, made up of talented professional writers, never allow me to get away with anything that even sniffs of the soapbox. I remain blissfully unaware of the times I use language that might be considered pompous or even condescending. Because I left school at 16 with few formal qualifications, I assume that my knowledge of English is pretty average but, apparently, I sometimes use language in a way that certain readers might find difficult. It’s not deliberate, but stems from a desire to combine accuracy with a concise style. So, sometimes, the intervention of my chosen critics helps overcome a tendency to use language that might otherwise be seen as ‘clever’, never an intention but sometimes an outcome.

So, I write out of an almost physical need combined with a love of words and of the power of story to convey emotion. What drives you to write? I’d love to know. Please go to the trouble of commenting. It’s really very easy.

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