Tuesday 27 November 2018

Why Write?

Some writers dream of fame or fortune, though if they do they are either narcissistic or deluded, or a sports or reality show personality. As I plunge more fully into a season of writing, I am considering again why I write. There are a plethora of reasons, but I shall focus on one of my primary preoccupations here. I needn’t remind us that we dwell in an age of mass information, with publishing within the reach of everyone’s digits and the more swamped the market gets, the harder it is for writers to reassure themselves that they have anything to add to the centuries old and mightily impressive canon, or to be happened upon at all in the ocean of words in which we wade.

Since the 1980s, possibly since the 1990s, and not withstanding nepotism and Oxbridge educations, it is well nigh impossible this millennia to get a book read without market forces in full sha-bing. Publishing houses are driven by market forces, and those market forces are driven by sure bets, and sure bets have done something else first – been a sport star or star of stage or large or small screen. I do not mean to say this bitterly at all, it is quite simply the way it is and as with all that appears bad, there is plenty of good in the great semantic sea. Expert fishing is required – by those who know how to fish in the first place. How do we know a great fish without recognising the fish in the first place – this requires broad reading of the great fish in the first place and at least the accepted canon is not cod.

There are many reasons to write and all writers are better off not contemplating recognition, but rather why they, personally, write. I first asked myself this question when a major publishing house that was interested in publishing my first book questioned the central premise of my novel as not being believable. Did they know that the catastrophic central scene that unpacked the entire novel did actually happen in the civil war in Zimbabwe? Not. I soon realised that in order for that house, and possibly other houses, to publish me I would need to write to a script that was not my own. In the pose of thinker, I considered why I wrote the book in the first place (to try to discover point up the truth as I perceived it). I told my agent that I was not changing it, thereby unraveling my route to that house and instead struck out on the narrow path to my own ‘Brilliant Career’ – hopefully that book and the irony thereof is noted.

I am not alone, on my persistent but narrow road; I have never made obvious choices. I have won competitions and have had that novel admired not only by that house but also by many others – I have, I believe I can say, the letters in both senses. I know that I am a ‘good writer’ given the comments of those in the industry that have tutored and often celebrated my work. But what is a good writer anyway? Who says? One can say so oneself, but there will always be those who agree and those who do not. I have concluded that I cannot write ‘for’ anyone, though I very much appreciate the imaginary conversation I am having with each individual reader. 

One must write for other or at least more, reasons, and one of those reasons must surely be to please oneself, and I shall address this vast and personal topic another day. I am encouraged as to my own ‘goodness’ as a writer by the feedback of readers for whom I have scored points – they share what those points are. As any writer would be, I am delighted by the comments of my readers. Of course, it would have been nice to have a vast marketing machine pushing After the Rains, but it nevertheless continues to sell. As in the rabbit and the hare, I do believe that it will continue to win in its own way as it hops along.

Some of my most treasured comments from readers are the ones from those who thought a certain way politically or socially, but having read my work, reported that they now had another view or could perceive an alternative view regarding some of the circumstances that led to the civil war in Zimbabwe. Others reported not knowing about the war, but had now been switched on to reading more about it. Surely we write to point to the truths we feel need pointing up? I write to change people’s minds. Often, in the process of dissemination of thought and motivation, I find that it is during the journey into the dark and back up to the light, that my mind is often changed too.