So why do I write? I don’t really know. For pleasure? Yes, I suppose so. Because I have something to say? Well maybe. Good enough reasons for an amateur, perhaps, whose books will only ever be seen by me. Artists, painters, photographers… all of these seem content to hang their art on their own walls alone, to be seen only by them. Can the writer do the same? I wonder.
Why would the writer do that? Well, the world can be a cruel and heartless place. Some people have thick skins, or simply do not care, or thrive on controversy. But the rest of us? No, we have no desire to be famous, to be taunted by trolls and activists, to be sent hate mail and stinging critiques, to be shot down before we have even found the courage to stand up straight.
The more I think about it, the less enthusiastic I become. Perhaps the boring day job has its quaint appeal. Perhaps it is safer than striding out before the world to invite the derision of the braying crowds. Perhaps it is better to be the obscure character, nobody ever really knew, than to be shot down in flames for daring to tell a story or put pen to paper.
Perhaps this is why the writer might strive to be unread.
You finish the book, and then a mountain of doubts smash you against the wall…
Why did you decide to tell that story…
Why did you write those characters…
Who were you to invest in those lives…
How dare you write those characters…
Are you even a good writer?
Who will even read that book?
Who will discover it?
Who will publish it?
What did you do it for?
Why don’t you just give up?
Why don’t you just desist.
It is okay to be an amateur. It is acceptable to engage in amateur dramatics. Likewise, it is okay to be an amateur writer.
It is okay to devote your time to something you love, even if it is only a hobby. If you love writing, then devote yourself to that.
It is okay to do something for the love of it only, and to be content with that. No need to pursue wealth, fame or great acclaim.
I address this rejoinder to myself.
Then there is the reality check, in which I recall what caused my withdrawal on my last (very brief) attempt to publish in 2013…
The egomania involved in promoting yourself to the world. It is vulgar, and I hated it.
Yes, and I have watched good folk kill their hearts in this selling business, creating needless controversies all over just to remain relevant and visible amongst the masses.
In these times, to sell your work (a book, your training courses, your lectures), you must recite the perpetual refrain: “Here I am, here I am, here I am.” Or: “Look at me.” Or: “Remember me.”
So then, it is a lost cause. Reboot. Reorientate. A question to myself: what am I doing it for?
Not for the money. To escape the glorified admin job in IT? Seriously? Not to be a superstar. To stave off the third mid-life crisis? Or just a wee hobby, more enjoyable than watching football or mowing the lawn. Hmm, I don’t know.
I kid myself to think I might ever be a published author. Let me stay in my lane, and remember who I am.
I used to write with a pen. Now I write with scissors, no longer afraid to eliminate long passages or whole chapters I once invested days or months in. Gone is the sentiment which used to demand those words remain. No, we see what we wrote in earlier years for what it is.
My latest piece of writing drained me heavily. Emotionally and physically. I wrote the first draft in 1996, some twenty-five years ago. I no longer relate to those characters or their immature angst, but for the sake of reinvigorating my once-abandoned novel, I had to occupy their world again, filling my head with their blues and anxiety. That process carried me back there, depositing on my head a heavy depression.
The latest draft is now complete, for now. It must now hang for a while to season and mature, to be returned to in a few months to be reconsidered perhaps. Maybe it will never see the light of day. Who knows? I have exited its little world, to return to reality.
This evening, I sifted through a pile of other manuscripts started but never finished over the past twenty years. I thought I might find another project to sink my teeth into, but the scissors just danced about on the page, rejecting my files wholesale. Even words penned just three years ago grate with me now.
Perhaps the time has come to start anew. Or perhaps the time has come to admit: no, I am no writer at all.
Who ever would have known that decades of xenophobic and racist stories in national newspapers targeting ‘foreign’ workers, followed by an actual political movement to physically close the doors on said ‘foreigners’ would result in a recruitment crisis of epic proportions, right across health, social care, social services, logistics and agriculture?
We only have ourselves to blame. We reap what we sow. Or in this case, we don’t reap what we sow… we just leave it to rot in the fields, because there’s no one left willing to do that hard graft to harvest our crops.
If only I had had ambition, petitions my inner voice, as I wander up my street of rundown terraces. Wandering, wandering, after a boring day of work.
I work in a mental health setting. I support those working with children and adolescents in particular.
I was once taken aback when I heard someone who was responsible for this service exclaim:
“I hate needy people!”
My fault for trying to be inclusive of a service user who I believed had potential to enrich the work we were trying to do.
I wish I had blurted out the response that flitted into my mind:
“But the whole point of your service is to help needy people.”
But of course I said nothing, managing no more than a feeble twinge in my heart.
The truth is, I might say something like that. I hate grown adults incapable of putting themselves in the shoes of young people suffering trauma.
I hate those who have lost sight of the role they are employed to fulfil. Surely they can still be moved by more than the need to cover the monthly repayments for the expensive SUV in the car park.
We are in the profession of caring, even those of us in support roles. So care. Show us you care.
Deal with the religious bullies that deploy ancient texts to browbeat the young and vulnerable into actions they would shun if they were older or more mature.
I was once bullied by such a chap. Ah, but that fellow is now celebrated all over, embraced by the same media which vilifies his victims. Today he is a talkshow host, a social commentator, a published author and apparently an authority on extremism.
I just feel fortunate that I was a young Muslim before the age of social media. Thank goodness I only had to deal with one man visiting my flat to talk me into submission, into to agreeing with him that it was my religious duty to strive towards all those goals he said were obligatory. Thank goodness I could escape his harassment.
Perhaps he is penitent today. Perhaps he has made amends. I have not spoken to him in over twenty years. I don’t care to. But sadly he has been replaced by a vast army of religious bullies, who now teem online, who will pressure the young without relent with their religious-sounding arguments.
I don’t let my own kids have smartphones. They have limited access to the web at home. I have already had a conversation with them about religious bullies, about extremism and this false call to faith. I will keep on having that conversation with them. I am protective of them and will not let them chat with proselytisers online.
For me, religious bullies are beyond the pale. They will exploit the young and vulnerable once, and then they will dump them when society turns on their victims. Protect your kids from religious bullies. Tonight, another conversation with my kids, prompted once more by that interview with that girl.