To embark upon a lifelong commitment to making black marks on a white page is a high calling. After several months of jokingly answering the question, “what are you writing” with, “anything people will pay me to write”, it has dawned on me in a series of epiphanies that that is a complete denial of the very things that drew me to this way of life. I thought that I loved words, for their own sake, and the sorcery of marking them accross a page would be enough to satisfy me. When we give ourselves over to creating, it is inevitable that we begin with several months or even years of hammering out what that means before we really get into our stride. During that period, and I am not out of it yet, there are all sorts of blind alleys to go down, but it is all grist to the mill – part of the long road of self discovery and renegotiation that is absolutely necessary for art to happen.
I have learned that I don’t love words for their own sake, I love truth, and stories, and communicating, and connecting, and putting the good stuff out there.
So here are the things that genuinely excite me about writing; the things I need to come back to again and again:
The Public Office of a Scribe
I see a writer’s work as having continuity with the scribes, amanuenses, bards and chroniclers of history. Living, as they did, in an age when literacy was rare, they performed a public duty to record and describe true accounts, to elevate the imagination through poetry and to teach with words. They held a public office and served society with their pens. The burden is still laid upon writers, even in a digital age when anyone can do it, to be unselfish and to add value to life through their work.
Here’s an apt description of the scribe from the book of Ecclesiasticus:
“He seeks out the wisdom of all the ancients, and is concerned with prophecies; he preserves the sayings of the famous and penetrates the subtleties of parables; he seeks out the hidden meanings of proverbs and is at home with the obscurities of parables. He serves among the great and appears before rulers; he travels in foreign lands and learns what is good and evil in the human lot.” (Ecclesiasticus 39:1-4)
How’s that for a job description?
It Is All About Truth
The written word can be used to cover up and to reveal, to tell lies or to exalt truth. It is so tempting to sacrifice integrity when there needs to be money in the bank at the end of the day. I gave up full time nursing to give more time to writing but as I described to a fellow writer the kind of projects I was taking on in order to try and make ends meet he said, “you gave up that for this? I think you’ll get more from nursing.” To be honest, it is one thing to serve others with your pen, but I have learned to be more careful about who.
Reading and Writing Against Loneliness
There is a moment in the film “Shadowlands” where CS Lewis encounters a student in a book shop who appears to be stealing. Later he confronts him:
“I happened to be in Blackwell’s the other day… and I saw you borrow a book.”
“No, steal. I stole it. Most of these books are stolen. They’re written to be read. At least I read them… which is more than most people do.”
“So you read differently to the rest of us, do you?”
“Yes, I do. I read at night. It’s the only thing breaks me concentration. All night sometimes. When I start a new book my hands are shaking. My eyes are jumping ahead… Does he feel the way I felt? Does he see what I’ve seen? You know, my father used to say… He was a teacher like you. Well, not like you. He was only the village schoolmaster…”
“What was it your father used to say?”
“We read to know we’re not alone.”
“Would it help if I made you a small loan?”
“Yes, I expect it would, if I wanted to be helped.”
“I see. Good-bye.”
For all of us, the written word has been a companion, for me, more than anything else, this has been the great comfort it has offered, “I am not alone”. If for no other reason, I have always written to let others know that they are not alone.
The Written Word is Pure Sorcery – an earlier post about the magical aspects of the craft.
Writers Wednesday: Announcing a Blog Carnival – still seeking submissions from fiction writers who would like to be featured on this blog next Wednesday.
Benjamin Myers – On Writing: Thirteen Theses. Sums it up quite well.