Ok, so I was feeling a little defensive about television this week, but I was STILL managing to rib so-called reality TV, boo, hiss. Television, to sum up my case, can provide the keen viewer with a heck of a lot of valuable story. Television — I may not have said out loud, though I certainly thought it — can be good with the plot stuff. On television, stuff happens. It is an energetic, though possibly not energising, medium.
Anyhow, I have been one bettered by an article at powells.com. (I am not associated with powells.com & will earn no money or even credibility from any purchases you might make there. In fact, I have never even shopped there myself, so this isn’t really a recommendation.)
Erik Barmack, author of The Virgin (which I haven’t read & also cannot recommend) has written an article on how reality TV saved his professional life as a writer. It also destroyed his relationship, as it happens — but that’s not the interesting bit.
The interesting bit is this:
“And the point that I want to make, I suppose, is this. Being a writer is a little bit like being a stalker. Not that I’d know what being a stalker is like. But if I had to guess, I’d say that you can’t choose who you want to follow, your obsession.”
The conjoined theme of Writing & Obsession comes up a lot. I’ve never really been one for the ‘I yam compelled to Write’ school of thought, never tried to say writing has saved me from madness. Never actively enabled thoughts on writing-as-divine or writing-as-channelling. Never claimed to have been the vessel for a disembodied voice that ‘speaks to me, it tells me my stories’. I don’t like the passivity of any of those positions.
I write for plain, simple, selfish reasons.
Because I like to write. And because it is only thing that has interested me my entire life, when other interests have fallen away. I used to want to be a Writer (yes, capital W again), as if labelling myself thus would somehow validate the eccentric way I like to spend my time — which is, really, to daydream. If I daydream with a pen in my hand or a keyboard in front of me, then I get to call it writing & it doesn’t look quite as crazy. Writing — even the physical act of writing* — still fascinates me. I still become mesmerised by the sight of someone jotting something down on a bit of paper**. It’s their silent communion with the page that enthralls me, the way information loops from their hands to their eyes and back again. It still seems like magic.
Yet, if I am to be honest, I have used writing as therapy at times, & occasionally I have indeed had that sense that there is some unseen force in partnership with me, guiding me into & through the writing. And, yes, I get the strange obsession of it. I get the lack of choice.
Which is why I find myself writing a story set in a freaking pre-industrial world EVEN THOUGH I don’t know a damn thing about pre-industrial worlds & had to skip large chunks of Clan of the Cave Bear ‘cos I found it boring.
I guess the good news is: I’m not re-writing Clan of the Cave Bear.
“Writers write about what obsesses them. You draw those cards. I lost my mother when I was 14. My daughter died at the age of 6. I lost my faith as a Catholic. When I’m writing, the darkness is always there. I go where the pain is.”
— Anne Rice
* I used to be captivated, as a very small kiddie, by the way my mother could pick up a pencil & write shapes that apparently had meaning. I used to try & imitate the movement of her wrist & fingers, but my shapes never took on meaning. ‘You’ll learn to write at school,’ she said, & it seemed to me school must be able to impart a special kind of magic***.
** In fact, I went to a book signing by Philip Noyce last year, & he was politely asking each attendee why they were here, whether they were a film maker or a writer, etc. And I answered, “I’m a wr–” and then I stopped, because he was inscribing my book & I’d fallen into a daze watching his signature. So there I am, trying to introduce myself to Philip Freaking NOYCE as a writer, & I can’t get to the end of my sentence. Eh, no matter. He’d met so many of us claiming to be writers I don’t think he even registered my absence of words at all.
*** I was wrong. I pretty much hated school.