I don’t know if you caught the Twitter trend #WhyIWrite, but it was fascinating. There were the obvious responses – ‘To quieten the voices in my head’, ‘To explore my deepest feelings’, ‘So that I can live forever’ and, more prosaically, ‘Because real life sucks.’ There was humour: ‘It’s a great way to avoid housework’. Then the inevitable backlash.
You can always rely on Twitter for the full range of views.
But the discussion got me thinking. Yes, there were responses that chimed with me, especially those which spoke about the need to escape reality. Books have always provided a haven that way whichever end of the process we’re at, as authors or readers, creators or consumers.
I knew, though, that there were also impulses that were more specific to me. I’m guessing all writers have these very personal writing dynamics. For instance, there are themes to which I return repeatedly – family secrets, eating disorders, sexuality, adoption. I’m drawn to those issues and the narratives that can come out of them. I want to explore my ideas on these topics and learn more by developing them in a story. This leads me to further research, which in turn sparks off more writing.
Then there’s what I want to say about the world. Real life does suck at times, no doubt about it. Good people suffer horrendous misfortune, and evil-doers often seem to dance through their days. So as a reader, when I open a book I like to step into somewhere more balanced and just, and the same is true for when I write. The characters of mine who are decent always do triumph, and my villains are punished. Perhaps the triumph isn’t unalloyed, and perhaps my heroines don’t end up with exactly what they thought they wanted. But the endings are essentially happy because I have that power and can make them so. Sometimes we all need a break from the unfair chaos around us.
Why do we write? It’s a question authors need to ask themselves because there are times when things are not going well, we’ve had bad reviews and we’re lonely or discouraged, or the muse has packed up and gone on holiday. What incentive is there to carry on? Well, here’s the best I’ve found, the one that’s saved me several times. Above all else, don’t we write to make connections with people? If energy’s low and spirits bleak, then remembering praise from readers is the best tonic there is. We write to entertain, to cheer, to affirm. We write to stretch out a hand.
After some thought, here’s what I finally tweeted in response:
and with my most recent book:
If my novels have made even one person feel better-placed to face the world, then I’ve not made a complete hash of it. And what’s more, I’ll carry on writing.