On Writing · Writing

“What Makes You Want To Write?”

I get asked this a lot. Not without good reason, because there are an infinite number of things that can prompt us to write. Major life events, the observation of beautiful (and ugly) sights, friendships, new encounters, and the peculiar minutiae of everyday life. Hell, last week I wrote a poem about a stem of broccoli that floated past my seat by the estuary in my home city. But if I, personally, had to narrow it down to a single reason (which the asker of the question invariably forces me to do) it would be to capture the truth of human experience. And this cannot be done at will or on a whim; certain conditions can breed exceptional pieces of writing.

In the ten years that I have been writing creatively I have discovered an unsettling truth: that the best material is produced in the worst times. There is nothing enlightening about being quietly untroubled, to simply plod along through one’s life without issue. It is the moments of potent emotion that reveal the truths of being human, and it is in these moments that I force myself to write. At the height of passion, after a shuddering personal loss, in the throes of crushing sadness, or when I am so angry that my hands go cold and I just shake. That is when I write, because I see the certainties of my life in a clearer light. Intense joy, too, can produce good writing, but not nearly as often I find: it serves to show us the beautiful in life, but little else.

This sentiment is evident in most fiction. Characters that are deeply troubled, or barred from achieving what they want, or plagued by undesirable pasts and situations, will be far more interesting for a reader because they will see themselves in the character. Jane goes to a good school, graduates with flying colours, meets the love of her life, has three healthy children and dies of natural causes at the same time as her husband at the age of 80 is an interesting story for Jane, but not for us. Obstacles, extreme emotions and unresolved endings make the best fiction because they most accurately represent one of the fundamental premises of human existence. That our lives are defined by unpleasantness.

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