Yesterday on Twitter someone posed the question ‘Writers! Why Write?’, and it’s been on my mind ever since. I responded to the Tweet by saying something mildly facetious like ‘it’s either that or fall into a depression’, which is partly true, but it’s not the whole story. I’ve been thinking about my life so far, when and where my interest in writing began, why I started doing it and – possibly most importantly – why I still do it now.
In primary school, around age 8 or so, my class was given a task – to read some of ‘The Diary of Anne Frank’, and then, after we’d talked it over with the teacher, to write a diary entry as though we were in captivity ourselves. It might seem like a morbid thing to get a class of 8-year-olds to do, but I remember it as one of the most rewarding experiences of my school years. Not only did this exercise mark the beginning of my interest in Anne Frank, but it also kick-started my desire to keep a diary. The first ‘diary’ I ever kept had a red and white checked cover (I seem to remember I wanted it because it looked a bit like the one Anne Frank received for her 13th birthday, when she began keeping her own journal); the fact that it was actually an address book belonging to my mother, which she was still using, did not deter me from writing in it. My first forays into diary-keeping read something like this: ‘It’s Tuesday. I played outside today from ten o’clock to four o’clock and then Mammy called me. For dinner we had pork chops, peas and spuds. Then I went to bed. Goodnight.’ An entry like this would typically be accompanied by a drawing of my dinner, and maybe a representation of me asleep in bed. I’m often struck, when reading these old books, how my interests haven’t changed much – food and sleep are still high on my list of priorities. This daily commitment to writing, combined with my voracious love of reading, soon led me to try to write creatively – my early efforts were encouraged by my teachers, but they also took the time to correct my spelling and use of vocabulary, sometimes even giving me extra work in order to keep my interest alive.
This impulse to write stayed with me all through the rest of my school years. I was religious about writing in my diary every night during secondary school, and I often illustrated my entries – usually with diagrams of where my friends and I were standing when a particular boy walked by, or what we’d all decided to wear to the school dance (called a ‘hooley’ in my part of the world), or other vital scenarios. This regular writing, which I used to look forward to every evening, was one of the most important features of my adolescent life, and perhaps I wasn’t being entirely facetious in my Tweet yesterday when I said writing kept me from falling into sorrow. Certainly, writing helped me deal with the stress and heartache I felt as I grew up; I told my diary things I felt I could tell nobody else, and I took out my frustration and my fury on the paper instead of on myself or other people. It was the best training I could have done for the sort of writing I try to do now.
As I grew older, went to college and started my working life, my diary writing fell away a little. The grind of commuting, working, and trying to have a ‘grown-up’ life meant that I had no time for my imagination, and I didn’t write – either to record my days, or creatively – for years. I still had ideas, and I’d note them down, but they would sit, gathering dust, until eventually they were buried so deep that I lost sight of them. Suppressing something isn’t a good way to get rid of it, though. It just makes it stronger, and it bides its time, waiting to reassert itself; at least, this is what happened with my writing and me. Over the past few years, the urge to write and create has come back so strongly that it began to take over my whole life, and it couldn’t be ignored any more.
My teenage years are longer ago than I like to think about, but perhaps I have more in common with my youthful self now than I’ve had for years. I’m writing every day, I have the luxury of expressing myself, and I feel the same sort of wild joy around words that I used to feel back then. I just don’t have to worry about what to wear to school hooleys any more, which can only be a good thing; my sartorial choices have always been a bit hit-and-miss.
So, that’s my story. I write because I have to, and because I love to do it – the ideas keep coming (long may that last!), and I don’t want to let them die. If you write, what’s your writing story?