Why Do We Write As We Do?

A Rainbow of Inspiration

A Rainbow of Inspiration captured in Harehills, Leeds June 2010

It’s been a while (I think) since I did a purely introspective piece in Life and Art, but in the maelstrom of activity which followed the Freshly Pressed event the other week, I began to think a bit more than usual about how I write and how my writing has been informed by the whole experience of my life, and I thought it was worth a post at least.

The creative writing item picked up by Freshly Pressed was a late-night last-minute stream-of-consciousness effort about a topic I had happened upon in The Guardian. Had I known that over the next few days some 9,000 people would stop by to read it (for the most part more experienced, knowledgeable, professionally concerned and seriously interested in the topic of creative writing than I) it’s fair to say I might have been paralysed into silence.

It’s a measure of how far I’ve come in this whole blogging business that I didn’t run away and hide in embarrassment at the prospect of ‘real’ writers reading my work. Because naturally I don’t see myself as a ‘real’ writer: I find it hard enough sometimes to see myself as a ‘real’ artist. I live in the fear that one day someone will turn around and catch me out and point the finger in dramatic fashion and declare to the world at large “YOU aren’t an artist!”

Having said that, I spent much of my legal career (law degree, postgraduate law degree, French law diploma and practicing certificate notwithstanding) living in fear of being outed as a pretend lawyer. So it’s clearly just me that finds it hard to believe that I am what I present myself as to the outside world.

Anyway, in this whole debate about what can be taught and what can’t, it set me wondering at a personal level about why I paint/make art/write as I do.  I began by thinking about this in relation to art, but strangely that’s a much more complicated analysis, and a subject for another day. In the early years especially, I read so many books on “how to” paint/draw/express and listened to so many teachers that I lost my voice and it took me an eternity to find it again.

Interestingly, not so writing. Writing has been as much a part of my entire life as drawing, but I never tried to consciously do anything with it, or learn more of the craft, or improve it. Isn’t that odd? I wrote non-stop and compulsively for years in journals, in correspondence, for pleasure, but nearly always privately. With no outside influences other than a voracious appetite for books of all sorts and a few encouraging English teachers, and not caring in the slightest about how I should or should not write, I now realise to my surprise that my written voice has been able to retain authenticity of expression at many times when my art ‘voice’ has struggled. Writing is my default mode of being.

And then in the midst of all this introspection, I realised how much my style of writing has been informed by life’s experiences as much as anything else.  I write as I do because pretty much my entire life has been spent endeavouring to communicate as clearly and as simply as possible. I am driven to try and write with clarity and structure because

… I grew up with a profoundly deaf sister, and communication was only possible if it was concise and simple;

… As a lawyer I believed that deep understanding of law was best evidenced by explanations and advice being delivered in the plainest of English; and

… As an artist with those specific past experiences, I am committed to communicating about my art and the art world in general in language non-artists can readily understand.

So that’s me. What about you?

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9 responses to Why Do We Write As We Do?

  1. It’s an interesting point about the writing we keep to ourselves versus that which we share with others. ‘Private’ writing can be more purely ourselves as it is free from direct influence from outside; and I think it is true to say that one of the best ways to ‘improve’ writing is to read. So your method of reading and at the same time writing mainly for yourself may be the best recipe for developing and maintaining an individual voice.

    I think I write the way I do because (1) I simply can’t resist making a story out of life experiences, and making odd and random connections between different things, and (2) the legal background and the need to explain complicated things to non native English speaker, non experts in order to persuade them to take particular decisions requires precision and clarity.

  2. Edward Canavarro

    Your posts are a pleasure. I journaled for a long time before blogging. This has been a true joy.

  3. I decided to blog because I had things to say on behalf of the silent majority… or at least I think the majority are silent, but that is part of what I find out when I write and someone responds.
    I agree with you that clarity in writing is important!

  4. Hi Gillian,

    I started writing for a specific personal and cathartic reason. Once I started I couldn’t stop. I found it helped empty thoughts out of my head and into the cold light of day. It was a while before I started reading them at poetry events and entering competitions etc. I enjoy the ideas, the links and ways of using language that can be invigorating, provoking, and to give something extra to simple expressions.

    I find poetry works for me more than any other form. I do take lots of photographs, sometimes paint and have dabbled in lots of other things. I write short stories, but only under provocation. To support a local writers group. I find even the short 1500word target gets clogged down, looking for the perfect form of expression, so it turns into a trial. So I try not to do that too much.

  5. I began to blog in support of the publication of my first novel Loot and originally I wrote about the business of writing and publishing which was consuming most of my time and attention. Since then I have become more involved in blogging as an outlet for different interests that I have and have started a couple of blogs dedicated to specific subjects. On http://chefologist.wordpress.com/ I set myself the challenge of restricting my blogs to 250-300 words and try in that space to express something of my passion for food and cooking as well as a practical recipe. I am also one of the administrators on a blog at http://mountfranklinannualpagangathering.blogspot.com/ which requires me to take on the voice of the group, restricting my own personal opinions whilst still having to write informatively and, most importantly, legibly. I wrote about this in a blog post http://dgmattichakjr.wordpress.com/2010/10/29/the-pen-is-mightier-than-the-magick-sword-writing-for-the-mount-franklin-annual-pagan-gathering/ in which I said a lot of this already. In the end legibility is the most important aspect of our writing no matter what we are writing. You can’t mean what you say unless you can say what you mean, as an old English teacher of mine was fond of saying.
    I love the blog Gillian- keep up the good work. I would rate this as one of the most readable blogs that I follow.

  6. backgroundbird

    I loved this. I’m one of the readers that found you via the article you Freshly Pressed. I’ve consequently subscribed :).

    I often let myself get scared away from writing because of outside influence. I love to write. I express myself best through my letters and my journaling. But I don’t do it nearly enough because I don’t believe I’m good. Several friends of mine are excellent writers, and I’m always afraid to show them what I’ve written for fear of them thinking I’m mediocre. As a result, I neglect my journal. I don’t sit down and allow myself to go writing-wild. I stop myself before I’ve even started.

    That’s why, more than anything else, I’ve come to blogging. I want to write. Blogging is a good excuse to do so.

    I’m going to go lie on the lawn with my journal.

  7. gillianholding – Author

    Thank you all for taking the time to comment on this. One of the things I’m most enjoying at the moment on this writing topic is the feeling of conversations starting to happen!

    It is telling how often the compulsion to write is revealed, and I think that there is something quite special about the way blogging has given a public voice for the first time to so many.

    I am intrigued by the idea of the limited word blog. I tend to average between 300-500 without too much thought, but I read somewhere else recently about extremely concise yet effective writing and it is all food for thought!

  8. ynezcorriedo

    I find it interesting how you said that one can lose her voice in listening to teachers and reading “how to” books, especially in writing. I was anxious about that kind of thing too, being a college student, writing and studying art at the same time. But I figured that while I need to listen to what professors have to say, it’s important that I only distill and pick out which is important and which can be left out. I think that there should be a striking balance between trying to learn and experimenting while keeping your “voice”.
    I also share the same thoughts and anxiety about being a “writer”. I haven’t considered myself one, the role is a big shoe to fill in.
    I guess our methods and styles of writing are influenced by the environment, our experiences and the innate process of seeing the world. I believe everyone sees the world in a different manner.

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