I feel compelled to write about something which has plagued me for some time, and has only come to the forefront of my mind after some thinking and pondering that was offset by a recent bout of sadness and melancholia, and it’s that I must feel, within me, a compulsive need to write in order to to feel content with myself. I’m taking this opportunity and platform for expression to address my issue as a means for realising the reason behind my lack of writing.
I have not been true to myself in that I have lacked the confidence–and courage–to take to the pen, so to say. I am in a constant state of creativity but it is resigned to stay only in my mind or, at the very most, it finds itself jotted on a notepad. I feel as though I am a traitor to my literary role models, all of whom described themselves as having a need to write, and this guilt has manifested itself into dislike for myself and dislike at my own inability to write more often.
This guilt is present partly because I know and understand the importance of being able to write properly. I believe that writing articulately enough to adequately express one’s emotional state of mind is the most important trait one can attain. As Maya Angelou wrote in I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, “there is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.” This most accurately expresses my views of why one should write and why one should reach a level of articulation strong enough to make one’s prose appealing enough to read.
There are many benefits to come from being able to write and these benefits are predicate to one defining trait; thinking clearly. From this one trait I can begin to think and write more concisely, accurately and attractively. This awareness of the important need to write is what also pains me, because even awareness has not been enough to encourage me to write. The next line of reasoning I begin to take forces me to consider that if that’s not enough of a reason to write, then what is? This compulsive need is not only a desire but it is also something to strive towards. But I cannot fulfil this for some reason akin to cowardice and lack of self-belief.
I am, obviously, aware that to accurately express oneself one must have developed the skill of brevity to avoid committing, as Orwell describes, “bad habits of english writing”, and to develop the skill of brevity one must be well read. Stephen King once said that “if you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write.” Being well-read strengthens various traits that are often missing in non-readers. Reading definitely broadens the mind as readers, I find, are able to accommodate and understand various different perspectives that people hold, this partly being due to having read works–and by extension there inner thoughts–of different writers.
You can differentiate between the type of person Dostoevsky was with the type of person Slyvia Plath was through their writing and these personalities are more or less representations of sections of wider society. The characters writers develop are often manifestations of real members of the population; people encompass the personalities, opinions and belief systems of these characters. For instance, in Orwell’s Animal Farm–albeit being an allegorical novel–the raven, Moses, represents the views and beliefs of the Russian Orthodox Church. In Sartre’s Nausea, the self-taught man represents the ideas of humanism, or what Sartre believed humanism to be. Dostoevsky’s underground man is the type of man we will all encounter one day or another since he is so common; a bitter, self-defeated and pessimistic man. So readers have the added advantage of having been exposed to and–by extension–are aware of different beliefs and opinions, which should shape their minds and make them more knowledgable.
However, having said so, I find it difficult to devote time to reading. There’s only so many hours in a day and I’m sidetracked with other commitments, hobbies and interests. Time for reading is hard to find since our lives, in this globally connected internet world, are inundated with other forms of entertainment; the most popular being film and tv which requires the viewer to be passive and sedentary. Reading involves having to engage the brain to register the words on the page (or screen) and to make sense of them. This often becomes difficult for many since reading is much like a skill in that one’s reading ability increases the more time one spends doing it.
However, in my case, there was a very long period of my teenage years where I was not reading because I did not even consider doing so. I was more interested in film and televisual entertainment and I feel as though this has had an adverse impact on my reading. I am aware that my justifications are embarrassingly poor and I am also aware that if I put in a genuine effort to read then there would be time, I just have to be able to prioritise my commitments far more effectively. Hopefully this adversity shan’t be permanent and that with time my reading ability reaches the right level for my age. Where there’s a will, there’s a way.
On the issue of my writing style, I re-read this by Kurt Vonnegut, “why should you examine your writing style with the idea of improving it? Do so as a mark of respect for your readers.” Now, of course, I am not narcissistic nor deluded enough to even fantasise about having a readership large enough to respect, but I felt the quote was relatable to me in that I should improve my style as a mark of respect for myself.
A good writer is one worthy of praise and admiration, and for me, I want to be a good writer in order to articulately express myself to reflect my feelings, opinions and beliefs accurately. I am an admirer of Hitchens not solely for the opinions or beliefs he held, but rather how he articulated himself. That is the sole reason why I wish to improve my writing style and I know this is only achievable through reading widely and more often. I also know that to improve it I must attempt to write more often, I must trust my instincts more than I trust mine and other people’s criticisms of me. If I want to satisfy this need to feel content with myself then I should remain ignorant of what others think of my writing and just write. I know I won’t ever be this generation’s Hemingway or Orwell but I can damn well try.
“It usually only takes a page or two to know if a writer is really good. It only takes a paragraph or two to know if they’re awful.”