So said Samuel Johnson. Overused and inaccurate as it is, it’s a line that has been running through my head a great deal recently. It can’t be true, of course, since my income from writing has gone down, rather than up over the years and still I write. So why do I do it?
Maybe I write out of habit. I have been writing for as long as I can remember: poems, stories, plays, articles, but now novels, lots and lots of long novels about which I think I feel more passionate than I have about any other form of writing. For me, coming to grips with this form has felt like coming home after a long and difficult journey.
Is that why I write? For the profound absorption of being in the middle of a new project? For the sense of achievement when I've finished? But there are other things I could do that would give me the same feeling, surely: less exhausting, better paid things.
So do I write for pleasure? Is it always a pleasure? Of course not. But it’s more of pleasure than not writing, which is a pain. When I don’t write, I feel ill. I could no more take a decision to stop doing it than I could take a decision to stop breathing. It's how I cope with life, the universe and everything. I write about it.
Are you still writing? Well, am I?
Of all the questions anyone can ever ask a writer, that is surely the daftest. And the most aggravating, although I reckon only another writer would fully understand why.
But who asks the estate agent – are you still selling houses? Or the doctor – are you still diagnosing? Or the plumber - are you still making a fortune out of….. ?
So why do all my friends and acquaintances, whenever I chance to meet them after a gap of years, or in some cases mere months, inevitably ask me ‘Are you still writing?’ Like that other comment ‘I would write a book if I had the time’ it implies that writing is some casual pastime, a mere indulgence, which you can abandon at will. Not a real job at all. If D List celebrities can conjure 2 book deals out of thin air there can’t be anything too demanding about it, can there? So are you still writing, or have you found something better to do with your spare time? Like canoeing, or cookery.
So, why am I still writing?
Why do I write?
Because I can’t do much else.
Because I want to. Even when I'm not doing it, I desperately want to be doing it. This must be how a vampire feels about blood...
Because when it is going well, there is nothing like it.
Because I go around most of the time with my head in another world
Because characters insist on populating my mind, and somehow I have to find out about them.
I have to find out, I have to know, I need to explore. Not knowing is...
This is what it is!
And that, I suppose, is the real answer.
I write to find out.
Whatever I write, whether it be a play, a novel, or a piece of non fiction, I am writing to find out what happened, what really happened, what happened to make this character the way he/she is, what is happening now and what will happen next? It’s the insistent, persistent desire to know. Non writers always think that you know it all before you start. But in my case at least, it is a constant process of interrogation. Even by the time you type The End you don’t always know. And when you write a play you never know because the actors come along and start asking you questions and then you know you don’t know much at all. Which is half the fun of it. Every book, every story, every play is a quest to find out.
So there it is. I write to find out. And all the other things as well. And for money. Of course, whenever I can, I write for money!