Thursday, December 05, 2013
Why I Write: Article for Good Housekeeping
Joanna Pocock, one of our writers from the Bath Short Story Award asks the question, 'Why do I write?'
I didn’t ask myself this question when I picked up a pen and scribbled my first poem at the age of eight. As a child I wrote because it was fun and it passed the time. I was the youngest of seven children, but there was a five-year age gap between myself and the sister above me, so I was often alone. The characters in the stories I created kept me company. Now however, I write in order to make sense of the world. I write because it is the only way for me to know what I think about anything. My own thoughts surprise me when I unscramble them onto the page. After reading something I have written, I often say to myself, 'Oh, so that’s what I think.' The writing gives shape to the idea.
For me there is little difference between writing fiction and non-fiction. Both require discipline, the moulding of a story, strong characters and both need a solid formal framework. Every fiction contains reality and every piece of non-fiction contains elements of pure fiction. This is unavoidable because writers like to tell stories, and not one writer I know (myself included) would ever let something as boring as the truth get in the way of a good story.
I don’t try and change the world through writing. Journalism does a better job of this. So, I try and entertain my readers rather than lecture them, although some issues burn so deeply within, that they can’t help but come out. Feminism for instance probably shines through every word I have ever written. If it weren’t for the women before me demanding equality and emancipation, I would be peeling potatoes and darning socks right now (I do both of these things, but thankfully not exclusively).
I write also because I like a challenge. Being a writer is not easy: there is little to no money in it, and it requires time, a lot of it. The average novel takes seven years to write, and those seven years are guaranteed to be lonely. One has to be content eating lots of potatoes and wearing darned socks (see above). The thing with being a writer is that everything works against you, so you need to be stubborn. You need to be one of those people who opens the door you have been told to keep closed. You have to be curious and willing to make mistakes that can land you in trouble. To be a writer you need to feel you have no alternative. Writing for me is like holding an ice cube onto a bruised forehead: it heals the hurt with a new kind of pain, but ultimately it gets rid of that darned pounding in your skull.
Joanna Pocock has a Masters in Creative Writing from Bath Spa University. She teaches creative writing at Central St Martin’s and works as a freelance book editor.
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