Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Why write?

I usually get accused of self-loathing and/or childish knee-jerk negativism (as if those are bad things!) when I write/say something like this, so I'll let the more loathsome and knee-jerk negative John Crace say it for me:
But this urge to be creative - or more importantly, perhaps, to be seen to be creative - surely must what makes writing so irresistible to so many. Few jobs allow a purer expression of the self. You can create your own worlds, your own characters and your own stories; the only limit is your own imagination and talent. And this is where, you can't help feeling, the whole thing begins to fall apart. Because for most people there is a huge mismatch in their perception of their imagination and talent. For when people talk about wanting to be a writer, they don't usually mean they just want to write something in their own time for their pleasure. They want to do it for ours' too.
The genuine, unquashable desire to write a book – as opposed to the abstract thought that, gosh, I'd like to write something someday – represents a lack, a hole, a broken connection or twelve. The wound, as both Edmund Wilson and Norman Mailer put it, though that easily shades into macho/masochistic self-congratulation. You write books because you are shitty – deeply shitty – at just about everything else.

That still sounds like self-congratulation – losers, no matter what they say, have their arms permanently crooked for a self-back-patting. Spend some time near a slush pile, with its thick odour of scorched egos, boundless narcissism, seething, Gollum-like neediness and duplicity, hobbyhorses panting and wet, idées not only fixed but fucking nailed into place, alienation from even the barest and most generous outlines of what we call mainstream culture – you read all that stuff, laughing at first, rolling your eyes and shaking your head, until you realize that They Are Me.

And that's why we write: because we are shitty, self-hating losers.

Oh, and because it's so fun.

ADDED: Following up on Steven's comment, I should say that I'm also mindful of a comment Jerry Seinfeld makes to a newly Botoxed and therapized Garry Shandling (in that new Larry Sanders box-set) on the subject of whether comedy comes from a dark place, psychologically: "God forbid you have talent..."

To which Shandling replies: "I detect some hostility in that answer..."

I don't want to go too far down the art-from-misery road, wherein everything is just Notes from Underground, but still. Inasmuch as most people lack something fundamental, writers and other creative types are at least lucky enough to make something of it. The only problem is that, in most cases, what is lacking overwhelms the thing being made of it. And worse: the lack within the thing being made makes the original lack even more... lacking.

Jesus, I sound like Jack Sparrow.


Steven W. Beattie said...

"You write books because you are shitty – deeply shitty – at just about everything else."

Hmm ... Anthony Trollope worked for British Mail. John le Carré worked for the British Foreign Service. Joseph Conrad was a sailor. Wallace Stevens was an accountant. William Carlos Williams and Anton Chekhov were doctors (Kevin Patterson and Vincent Lam still are). Etc.

Or am I taking you too seriously?

nathan said...

Yes. And too literally. But still.

Steven W. Beattie said...

Damn. I'll try harder next time, promise.

Rob In Victoria said...

I dunno what the hell you're talking about.

I write for the chicks.

And the booze.

Ognir Rrats said...

What the fuuuu...? I rarely like the first-person plural pronoun and this is why.

And try re-reading the first sentence of that Crace quote. The urge to be creative is _very_ _different_ than the urge to be seen to be creative. Remove that clause and he's saying the urge to be creative is what makes writing so irresistible. No shit. You mean the urge to be creative is what makes being creative so irresistible? It's nonsense.

Zachariah Wells said...

And I'll have you know, I'm a top-notch train attendant and before that was no slouch as an airline cargo load control coordinator. Not that I'd keep doing it if I could afford to quit.