The question of why and how we write has been, ironically enough, written about many times over. The accumulated answers could populate the Bodleian and they have engendered as much debate as they have consensus.
There are, however, certain viewpoints which dance above the parapet with wild abandon. At the most simple level, psycholinguist Steven Pinker articulates the allure of the written word for the aesthete: ‘A crisp sentence, an arresting metaphor, a witty aside, an elegant turn of phrase are among life’s greatest pleasures.’
Anais Nin links great writing to excess and its ability to counteract it: the greatest art, she believed, ‘was born of great terrors, great loneliness, great inhibitions, instabilities, and it always balances them’.
In his Letters to a Young Poet, the Bohemian-Austrian poet Rainer Maria Rilke says writing must begin with a simple question to oneself: “Must I write?”. He advises the hopeful recipient of his correspondence to: ‘Go into yourself and see how deep the place is from which your life flows.’
Scott Fitzgerald makes the same profound point in a perhaps more prosaic way: 'You don't write because you want to say something, you write because you have something to say.’
And indeed there is a certain nobility in writing if you employ it in pursuit of describing the world as it really is. As the great historian Howard Zinn wrote, ‘the people of the world have a power greater than money or weapons: the truth’.
For me, writing has always brought a lightness into my life and been the source of a discursive process that has brought meaning into my world. This has been the case whether I have written light-hearted poetry or essays that have tried to measure the weight of centuries of oppression.
In the end, while I am enamoured by a confluence of the above views, the writer’s remarks I keep returning to is the inimitable Virginia Woolf. She describes writing and style as a matter of rhythm. Liberating her reader, she goes on:
Once you get that, you can’t use the wrong words…Now this is very profound, what rhythm is, and goes far deeper than words. A sight, an emotion, creates this wave in the mind, long before it makes words to fit it; and in writing (such is my present belief) one has to recapture this, and set this working (which has nothing apparently to do with words) and then, as it breaks and tumbles in the mind, it makes words to fit it. But no doubt I shall think differently next year.
In spite of the typically modest parting suggestion of the ephemerality of her musing, it is a view that has endured and continues to resonate. In particular, the last few months have been a process of ‘recapturing’ for me, the logical conclusion of which is work on a novel of my own.
This blog, however, is a part of reconnecting with that rhythm, of feeding that wave in the mind, and I look forward to the lightness it brings with it.