Tuesday, March 10, 2009
We Do It Because We Are Compelled
I don’t know how many books and articles about writing and the creative process in general I’ve read and continue to read. When I go to the States I am always intrigued by the number of such books on the shelves and always think, ah, yes, you see, the Yanks really get it. And I know that I often go to New York and that, thank you very much, the big Barnes and Noble near Lincoln Center will have thirty shelves of non-fiction about the creative process and the writing one, but it doesn’t matter whether you’re in New York or in Manchester, whether you've read one hundred books about writing or none, because any writer the world over will tell you that the reason for writing is often a reason onto itself and that one writes for writing’s own sake. Writing is its own raison d'être. We do it because we are compelled to do it.
Consider what Annie Dillard says about it: ‘One of the few things I know about writing is this: spend it all, shoot it, play it, lose it, all, right away, every time. Do not hoard what seems good for a later place in the book, or for another book; give it all, give it now’. I am not one of those who feel great rushes of inspiration exploding onto a keyboard or into a journal but I too do not hold back. When ideas come to my mind I may not be suddenly wide-eyed, scrambling for a pen and a paper napkin, holding onto that thought with all the tenacity of my dog William to a gravy bone but I do, eventually, spend it all. My ideas hover above me for days and it is only when I cannot ignore them any longer that I sit down and start prodding them, usually to see whether I can break the clouds and find something beyond them. And there's always something (sorry, that makes me sound like Violet Beaudelaire, but it's so true, there's always something).
I recognised the usual pattern the other night, when I pretended I was trying to go to sleep while my mind was reeling with imagery and my ears humming like they do post-IMAX experience, as they call it. I was thinking of Watchmen and of my task, and I was partly electrified, partly relieved as I had been stressing for three months about it, worried that it may have been turned into a fizzling pop fest à la Fantastic Four, or perhaps a mishmash of commercial decisions aimed at racking in the billions while desecrating the drama. I am grinning as I write this my friends, for I needn’t have worried.
Today I wrote my review and although I am not pleased with it (and that’s because I am never pleased with anything, except perhaps my shoe collection, which could always do with more and better though), I feel like an enormous weight has been lifted, the hovering, thundering clouds finally dissipated as I return to Edmund Burke, the sublime and ideals of childhood. And actually, I must admit I feel ever so slightly rattled. If you know Burke, you will know how seminal his work is for the Romantic Age but, believe me, after the thrilling film noir-esque fest that is Watchmen, only Milton would do. And maybe that’s what I should do, intertwine Paradise Lost with Rorschach and the Owl and the Dr and the rest of them. After all, I’ve already done Dante and Batman and The Name of the Rose and the Joker, surely I can do no worse than that?
But I digress, as usual. So yes, we write because we are compelled, otherwise why on earth doing it? When I was younger I thought I wanted to write because I had ‘something to say’. God, I shake my head in disbelief at that senseless naïvety, it makes me sound like some fucking hippie who clutches birth stones and wears bangles and flat sandals; if I had ‘something to say’ why not standing at Poets’ Corner in Hyde Park and shout it out? Why not talking to anyone who would listen and to those who wouldn’t as well? Why not just saying it?
Easy to condemn myself, I know, and I probably have no actual reasons to do so, especially when the sub-text of ‘having something to say’ is really ‘I write because I am compelled’. That’s how it felt as I wrote about this latest movie, sparks of novelty going off like little fireworks, as I sat looking out of Starbucks part-glassy-eyed, part-fired-up, transported to a parallel dimension that exists in waves, sometimes as inaccessible as a bunker, others as familiar as my own hands.
I am a little disappointed that I cannot post my review on here but then I should be pleased it is going elsewhere, as this is only a journal. But then journals can be pretty powerful things, can’t they? Read Watchmen (or indeed watch it) and find out.