Why I Write.

From my Very Serious Writing Desk
From my Very Serious Writing Desk

My penultimate contribution before the Great Back To School Exodus is an essay on text-making monkeys, loneliness, books and politics, for Overland Magazine’s centenary issue. I was challenged to compose a modern response to George Orwell’s seminal essay on the same topic – and if I’ve done it even a scrap of justice, well, that’s me satisfied.

‘Many writers and artists in the digital age focus on promoting their ‘personal brand’ at the expense of developing their authentic voice. The difference is quite simple.

Your brand is what you show to the world and sell for cash to your employers so you can buy luxuries like rent and tea and pens.

Your voice cannot be sold. It cannot be copied or cheapened with trade. It is yours. It exists in the magic space between your brain and your keyboard, and has nothing to do with noise. It is what is left when the internet goes down and your friends stop calling and you’re alone with a notebook. Your voice is what makes you, rather than any one of a hundred thousand fungible public personalities, a writer.

When it comes to being a writer, there are a couple of questions that really matter. Do you write? Would you prefer to put words on a page than almost anything else? Do you stay up late to write, get up early to write, escape your friends and partners and small children to be alone with words? Can you actually finish a story – have you mastered the habit of whipping your wild thoughts into a workable form, signing them off and letting them go? Do you have enough patience to sit with a manuscript for hours until it’s done, but enough impatience to chase a story through the small hours of the morning until you’ve caught and nailed it down?

Most importantly: do you read?

There is no universal writing life. But there are a few qualities that most of the really fantastic writers I know have in common – and the first of those is reading. Writers read widely and compulsively. They are not necessarily methodical; they will read to learn but they also read just to read, because they would rather do that than almost everything else. Writers take a great novel over a mediocre orgasm any day.’

Read the whole thing at Overland magazine.

One thought on “Why I Write.”

  1. There are some very good points in this piece about how the internet has opened up the possibility of many more people getting their voices heard than was the case thirty years ago. But…the internet as well as being a blessing can be a curse as well… It’s brilliant in that it gives marginalised people more of a chance of getting their voices heard…assuming they can access the technology to do that… The curse is that it gives the bigots the chance to shout down, harass and threaten the marginalised…and anyone else who they disagree with. How those who value freedom of speech deal with that is a complex and difficult issue…I certainly don’t pretend to have the answer to that…

    Another problem about the internet is that sometimes it can be a little too easy to publish something that’s ill considered – post in haste, regret at leisure. I’ve certainly been guilty of that in the past…and I’m not proud of the fact… Sure, there’s always the option of deleting but it’s surprising how few people exercise that option. Or worse, you circulate what you think is an internal discussion paper outlining your initial thoughts on an issue but making it clear that much more work is needed then the next thing you know it’s up on the net as the defining statement of the political group you wrote it for! Finally, as the years go by, your political understanding develops and becomes more nuanced – then you look at something you wrote about ten years ago and go OMFG, did I really write that crap?!

    Lastly, there’s the danger of taking the freedom (some of us) have to say what we want on the internet for granted. I kind of get the impression that the ruling elites have only just caught up with what the internet means for free expression and that secretly, they don’t like what they see one bit. As the world gets ever more volatile, that freedom could well start to slip away from us…

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