Monthly Archives of: August 2014


100×19: Why I write

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A couple of weeks ago, I had a message from Mike. Mike is an all-around wonderful human who I’m always excited to see, as well as the owner of a carefully thought out blog about things worth thinking carefully about. Gentleman Caller and I have had more than one spontaneous conversation about what a generally great human we think he is, and how his perspective on anything always makes it better.

But then he asked me for a favour, so now he’s dead to me.

Just kidding — he said I had élan, so he gets as many favours as he likes. The favour is this blog — kind of a chain letter of bloggers talking about why they write. Mike’s blog is here. Here’s mine:

Why do I write?

Gentleman Caller asked me this, maybe the second time we ever hung out as more than friends. And I realised when he did that I’d been waiting for someone to ask me that for years.

But there’s not really a straightforward answer: I write because I always have. I write because I can’t not. I write because I don’t know what I think until I can put it in words and move them around. I write because I love language. I write because characters turn up in my head and demand to be let out. I write because I’m better at it than I am at anything else.

I write because I write, I guess.

How does my writing differ from others in its genre?

In fiction, that’s a work in progress. Confidence in my own voice and what I have to say has been a life-long battle that I’m still mostly losing.

In blogging, I don’t know that it does. I’m sporadic at best, leaking styles and feelings and subject matter all over the internet.

Professionally, I think I have a knack for simplicity that most others don’t. I can figure out what things mean, and I can get that into fewer words than most.

How does my writing process work?

Left to my own devices, I like a cafe of a morning. An enormous milky coffee and some white noise; maybe something tasty for brunch. I take my laptop out most Saturdays and Sundays, and lurk in my regular haunts for a few hours, typing and people watching.

The best pieces of writing advice I’ve ever received were “you have to do the work” and “first drafts always suck”. I saw this today and had one of those sudden, hard stings of identification. The moment when I got good at writing — when I stopped dabbling and started creating, when my career took off and my fiction started to come together — was the moment I stopped worrying about whether what I wrote sucked. First drafts always suck.

There’s no magical muse fairy who’ll turn up some day and deliver you the perfect words in the perfect phrases. Just write something — write anything — and then make it better.

What am I working on?

I have this 8,500-word working document for this blog. Parts of it are published already; parts of it never will be. It’s a hodge-podge of half-baked ideas and semi-formed paragraphs and the odd total mystery (one entry says only “Mirrors everywhere???”).

I have all sorts of things I want to write about here, but no time or courage to do so. There are blogs in my head about apathy, about history, about politics and gender roles. There’s more than one about sex as it relates to all those others. I still want to try some kind of ethical lifestyle situation too. One day.

One day.

Why do I write what I do?

I have a couple of recurring themes. Family is the first one — what it means to be family, what it means to be blood, how those things can be different and how they affect people. I’m adopted, so that one’s maybe not a huge reach.

Other than that, the nature of people. Of kindness. The way we all have the capacity to be better, to try harder, but on the whole we don’t really want to. Or can’t bring ourselves to. Or are scared to. I want to say so much more about humanity, about kindness, about strength and compassion… but mostly I don’t, because I worry I’m not quite informed enough, or people will think I’m full of myself.

I like the atmospheres of things, too. Everything fictional I’ve ever written has started with or been grounded in a place — a feeling in space and time. The weather there. The flora. The way the air smells. I get myself into a story through its surroundings, and writing about places and times other than my own is one of the key delights in making words up.

Nomination time!

Rachel Brown, come on down! I met Rach through blogging, although she’s a friend of friends. We have long-standing writerly crushes on each other, and she’s another hero of mine for the things mentioned above — she’s kind, compassionate and generous… and bold about being so. I pretty much just think she’s the actual best. Go and read her blog at once.