One of the first assignments I was faced with at university was to write an essay titled “Why I Write.” I did terribly. The essay was returned to me covered in the red ink scrawlings of a creative writing tutor who probably wondered why on Earth I had chosen to do a creative writing degree. In fact, at that moment, even I wondered why I’d chosen to do a creative writing degree.
I had to write to understand why
When I was 18, I had no idea why I wrote. In fact, to be totally honest, I didn’t really write all that much at all. Years before I had been an avid young writer, penning unbelievably long stories known as The Pip and Jessie Adventures which were about my two beloved dogs and heavily inspired by Homeward Bound (because who doesn’t love the concept of talking animals?). As I grew up, I always loved the idea of writing and fancied myself a novelist, but I never actually wrote anything. Sadly, writing is kind of key to becoming a writer. Who knew?!
My degree forced me to write fiction and it made me fall in love with writing again. I started to find my voice and began to understand what type of stories I liked to tell. Short stories were my focus, and even after I graduated I continued to pen short and sweet tales on a regular basis.
Then life got in the way. Bloody life. A week-long break from writing turned into a month, then a month turned into three, and before I knew it four years went by, during which time I focused my writing efforts on copywriting rather than fiction.
In November last year, however, I got my mojo back. I launched myself into National Novel Writing Month (at which I spectacularly failed), and ignited a love of writing within myself that I’d never felt before. Writing a novel has allowed me to understand why writing is so important to me.
Writing is escapism
You know when you read a really wonderful book that scoops you up lovingly into its pages and completely takes you out of everyday life? One that you become fully absorbed in, which you can’t put down, which moves you to a whole new environment and set of circumstances? The type of book which forces you to become so fully invested in a character that you begin to think of them as a real person? For me, writing is like that, but even better.
Writing a novel has been one of the hardest things I’ve ever tried to do, and I’m not even done yet. What makes it so difficult is that you create a world and characters in your mind in such detail that you almost feel like you can reach out and touch them. Then you have to try to translate those visions into coherent sentences so that your readers can become as immersed in that world as you are.
It’s a process that I despise and adore. When I settle down into novel-writing mode, I feel like I’ve travelled to a familiar home town and I’m reacquainting myself with old friends. I am totally absorbed in a fictional world that I know inside out, and which I’m adding intricate details to at all times on the fly. It takes me away from whatever stresses I’m facing in real life and instead throws me into make-believe stresses that I can figure out myself using a creative licence which could never get me by in real life.
In regard to short stories, I write them because they force me out of the familiar world of my novel and make me wind the cogs of imagination quickly and succinctly. I don’t do much editing of the short stories I post here; the first draft is almost always the final draft, and I look at it as an exercise in creativity or an opportunity to bounce around ideas or concepts which might, one day, evolve into something longer and more complex. They give me light relief from the humdrum of real life, and I’d like to think they might do the same for my readers.
So, if I was faced with that first creative writing assignment again, I think I’d have a better shot of explaining why I write. I write because I want to escape. How about you?