The role of a writer is not to say what we all can say, but what we are unable to say. – Anaïs Nin
I’ve always loved words. English was one of my favourite subjects in school, and I was a bookworm of a kid, having my nose firmly stuck in a book until the age of twelve or thirteen, when I first got online and discovered a whole world of electronic words. (Our modem was too slow to handle graphics – seems like the dark ages now!)
From my early teens, I wanted to be a writer. I started on a novel as a rather unhappy fourteen year old, scribbling in a notebook during lunchtimes in the school library. Thankfully, my dalliance with awful teenage poetry was brief.
It’s with slight surprise that I wake up each morning now, realising that I actually achieved that teenage dream. I make my living from words, sitting down at a blank screen and creating something entirely out of twenty-six different letters and a handful of punctuation marks. On some level, it seems miraculous, like spinning straw into gold.
Fiction and Non-Fiction
I love fiction and non-fiction writing in equal measure. I explained in a recent blog post on Aliventures that this causes some tension: is the non-fiction my “real” work because it pays, or is the fiction more “real” because it’s purer, nobler, and much harder?
The truth is, they’re both equally real, and equally important to me. I’ve gone through periods where I only wrote fiction and academic essays. I’ve gone through times of blogging and freelance writing and nothing else. But I’m happiest when I can dream up worlds and characters to play with in my fiction, and when I can work through my own thoughts on paper – and provide something helpful or valuable to others – in my non-fiction writing.
Is it a Passion?
In my corner of the blogging world, there’s always talk about “passion.” Finding your passion; following your passion; making a living from your passion. I’m always uncomfortable with the word “passion.” Perhaps it’s because I’m British and it’s a little bit squeamishly lovely-romantic. Perhaps it’s because I’m a Christian and “Passion” has a religious connotation for me.
I certainly don’t feel that I have one all-consuming “passion.” Yes, I’m wrapped up in my novel at the moment, keen to finish Draft 2 so that I can send it to my tutor before heading off to South-by-South-West. But I’m also about to launch an ebook, and I’m writing regular blog pieces – for my own blog, and for others. I enjoy all this different writing – I couldn’t pick just one thing to focus on, because I’d get bored and ultimately, creatively burnt-out.
So I’m not sure that words are really my “passion.” I’m not sure that I have a passion. I have dreams (New York Bestseller list ones…) and I enjoy the process of writing, but there’s something more basic than that. For me, writing is like exercising or eating well: it’s essential for living a healthy life.
Why I Must Write
I don’t see writing as a “should,” a guilt-tripping kind of way. I see writing as something which I must do, because it’s integral to who I am. The mere process of taking thoughts, ordering them into words and putting those words onto a page helps me to feel balanced and grounded.
When I worked in an office job, my happiest times were when I wrote presentations and user guides (to rather dull software). The subject matter was uninteresting, but the act of composing clear sentences and instructions was a creative one.
I can’t imagine a better way to earn a living than by writing. I know that many people struggle to write and find it a chore, something to endlessly put off – but I love it, and I wouldn’t be without it.
Words aren’t my passion. Words are my soul’s way of breathing. The words I read connect me with people long-dead; the words I write may one day connect me with people not yet born. Writing is a way for me to take a little piece of my soul and put it into the world – and in doing so, I always receive something back.