I’ve been working on my fictionalised account of dying in a car accident. It wiped me out yesterday, writing about dying again. I felt sick and shaky and in describing my PTSD, I nearly started it up again. I had a few flashbacks, but then had a cup of tea and a chocolate biscuit and they stopped. It must be good, I thought, to be that powerful. I took Dog for a walk just to be on the safe side.
While I was walking Dog, I ran into a lady from church and Dog played with her dog while we chatted. I said something about my day and she said, ‘That must be very cathartic, writing it all down like that. You must feel soooo much better.’
Well no, I didn’t answer. I feel a whole lot worse, actually.
I know writing can be therapeutic, but it can also be destructive. Obsessively looking and reliving any event can be less than useful to building a healthy psychology. And writers are often sickly people anyway. They start noticing things because they are sitting quietly, out of the way. They have time to write because they didn’t get chosen for the hockey squad, or (like a surprising number of our MA students) got injured by horses, or have a kind of shyness that almost amounts to an injury. We are, generally, just the kind of people who need to get out more in the fresh air and worry less.
Shelley’s idea that we are ‘the unacknowledged legislators of the world’ might also be true, in a way, but we legislate for lots of different parties. In my bookshelf, Jane Austen sits next to William Burroughs (it’s not that I don’t have any Balzac, etc, I just roughly alphabetise and there’s room for both of them on that particular shelf). I worry about it all the time. I know they’re not getting along. Depending on what you think is right and wrong in this world, you will find great authors who are actively promoting what you think is wrong. Writing does not tell us how to live…if we are looking for it to do that, we have gone seriously astray. If we think we are supposed to do that for other people, we will be very disappointed.
Both of these concepts take the emphasis actually away from the writing and put it on what the writing is about. But what the writing is about isn’t nearly as important as how the writing is. When we read creative writing, we are able to inhabit the sensibilities of another person – the writer- who, themselves, might be writing in a way that they, too, are attempting to inhabit the sensibilities of another person. The writing itself, the how-good-is-it-ness of the writing, enables us to do this spectacular thing; bridge out of our own consciousness.
When people ask me why I write, I always say, ‘To serve God.’ That’s me, as a Catholic, as someone who promises every morning that ‘each word, each deed, each thought of mine shall be an act of love divine’, and every evening acknowledges my failure to accomplish the morning’s promise. I don’t mean that I’m writing religious tracts. I mean that I’m writing as well as I can, to make these bridges.
It’s great work. Sometimes it’s even rewarded.
But that’s another post.
One thought on “More On Why We Write”
Nic Jeune sent me your blog. I’m an MA student in film, formally a visual artist so the gap for me as a film maker is storytelling. Learning to write is becoming a theme in my life from several directions. A few years back my young son and I were hit by a drunk driver while we were in our car stopped at a red light. My son, 4 at the time, saw me knocked unconscious. As we recovered he had questions about death and we embellished a story we had previously invented about being otters in our next life because all otters do is play. How fun.
So we played with this otter story for a few years, mostly we talked about the accident through this story. A decade has gone by and my son recently handed me an outline of 13 chapters titles for the plot of what will be our collaboration of The Otter Story. Its my job to start to flesh out the story and characters. After reading your blog I am thinking that my son and I will just play with what it would be like to actually be an otter and start writing the character from that point. How fun. Now I am not overwhelmed.
I would love to do the creative writing masters to write this story. I doubt its financially feasible for me after the MA in Film, though I am sure it would get me to write this otter book in a year and enhance my documentary film work.
In any case,I enjoy reading your blog and gained some insight on how to move forward with this story.
Have a lovely Christmas.