Theory of writing

Until my most recent post on house sharing, I had not posted anything, or even felt like looking at this blog, in a long time. My blog has no real shape or purpose (for now) which sometimes excites me (think of all the possibilities) and sometimes makes me hate it (how can I ever create something wonderful, new, important and interesting? It’s too much pressure.. maybe I should just leave it for today). I write partly to see if I can, egged on by colleagues, friends and my partner, who say I write well. I write partly because it helps me. I have always written. Not always for public consumption and not always well but I have always written. I’m not sure what exactly started me off as a teenager. My friends and I used to write long notes and poems to each other in class and I can remember enjoying that – the actual act of writing something and reading what I had created, not just the feeling of interacting with my friends, certain that we had outsmarted the teachers. I definitely had a diary which I wrote in religiously from the age of 13 but it is possible I had it even earlier. I wrote everything – trips to the mall, family fights, heartaches and insecurities with the intensity that only a teenager can experience. I never thought at the time of why I was doing it but when my parents divorced a few years later it started to become more important. I wrote every day. My feelings and thoughts would pour out of me, starting to make sense and to form ideas and opinions I had not known I’d had. Importantly, I was able to write things down that I couldn’t say to anyone – there was no judgement and there were no repercussions, just clarity.

I still sometimes feel that need to just write in order to make sense of things – to grab a book and start writing, to let it all flow out onto paper. In an effort to ‘write properly’ (i.e. on a computer where the words can be manipulated, copied and pasted with more ease and a back up copy) I downgraded myself a while ago from a proper bound journal in favour of the digital diary. This obviously backfired and I now have four or five active ‘diaries’ lying around my room (notebooks borrowed from work which I started writing in when I needed physical paper to write on). These sometimes go a year or two between entries (this drives me mad but I never seem to be able to successfully amalgamate them all – due mostly to the denial of telling myself it should all be digital anyway). The plus side being that when I pick one up at random to start writing, I find myself reading an entry on the previous page, from a sad day in 2016 or 2017 (sad days are when I find myself writing in my journal most often). Whatever frustration I am feeling in the moment ebbs away with this strange new collection of feelings – heartache for past Elli, mixed with pride and satisfaction that I have done so much work towards getting myself better. Because my diaries enable me to write without much thought or editing, they have a beautiful flow to them. I often think of publishing my most depressed entries in some sort of ‘depression diary’ which I hope would help others to know that they are not alone with those awful feelings and beliefs about themselves. It is the ability to document everyday life, thoughts, feelings and emotions that makes me think that I could write more. And it is the importance I place on doing this in a way which is relatable and helpful that makes me think I should write more.

It wasn’t until years later that my interest in writing took on another angle as I became posthumously obsessed with Carrie Fisher. The year that she died I had put my hand up to be part of the skeleton staff over the Christmas break (I highly recommend doing this if you’d like to experience what true and absolute boredom feels like). I had known very little about her but started consuming every single obituary and article about her after reading about why she wrote “I always  wrote. I wrote from when I was twelve. That was therapeutic for me in those days. I wrote things to get them out of feeling them, and onto paper. So writing in a way saved me, kept me company. I did the traditional thing with falling in love with words, reading books and underlining lines I liked and words I didn’t know.” 

And so, thanks to Carrie Fisher, I started to think about the why and how of my writing, for the first time. I understood what she was saying and I felt such a connection to it – it was what I had felt about writing, although I had never put it into words. This theory of writing developed further for me when, having read an interview with Taiye Selasi, I found this absolute gem:

I’d just read one of your Instagram captions, which, like much of your prose, seemed to have flowed perfectly formed from top of mind to tip of finger. “It so clearly comes so easily,” I marvelled, not without some envy. You smiled, and asked, “How do you know?” How do we know that the casually composed photograph, the hastily written paragraph, is the fruit of instantaneous revelation and not of assiduous labour? Is perhaps part of the genius of all great artists their ability to hide their sweat?

I love this because it describes an aspect of admiring other people’s writing which I had never verbalised and I had never realised that other people might feel. When I read a writing style that I truly love, I end up comparing myself unfavourably. There is no point in trying because I will never be able to express myself that beautifully, easily and eloquently while also being so relatable. Surely, I think to myself, talent like that is innate, rather than coming from practice and hard work?! What the insight from Taiye Selasi reminds me is not only that talent usually is not innate, but also that I am not the only one who suffers from this nagging delusion that others are better than me. It may seem like all the things I want come more easily to others than to me, but that doesn’t mean I shouldn’t try anyway.

Between these two vastly different and (for me) vastly important lessons that I have learnt on the theory of writing, I find myself believing more fervently than before, that there is something to be gained by writing. Whether it is a blog, a journal or maybe even fiction. I do believe that I have something to say and I know (even if my own doubts prevent me from openly admitting it) that I have a skill – whether it be a ‘way with words’ as they say, or, through lived experience, an empathy and understanding which allows me to communicate with others. With enough practice and with the encouraging words of wisdom and experience of others before me, I can continue this hobby, hopefully getting better and more confident as time passes. So next time those same old frustrations and fears rear their heads (how can I ever create something wonderful, new, important and interesting? It’s too much pressure.. maybe I should just leave it for today) I will remember that others before me have felt this way and they have gone on to create beautiful things.

 

2 Comments

  1. Beautifully put. I feel these doubts often about my music (Why would anyone want to listen to me? Why should I impose myself by playing for friends when they come over? Why should I bother trying when I am behind the curve and simply unexceptional?). The key is that we just keep doing what we love for ourselves, for the pleasure and the release we find in it. By abandoning preoccupation with perfection and other people’s perceptions, we create space for the genuine to emerge.

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    1. And because you’re wonderful at it Steph. But yes, seeing the genuine enjoyment you get out of your music inspires me.

      Chatting to a housemate today (who is also a writer) and he puts it down to ‘You’re always going to be terrible until you’ve practiced, so you just need to keep practicing’. A nice thought for the days you don’t want to – it’s just practice.

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