Wednesday, 10 December 2014

The Power of Reading & the Human Wordsmith


"A writer is not someone who writes because they want to. A writer is someone who writes because they have to."

I can't remember when or where I first came across this quote, but it is one that has stuck with me for a very long time.

And the more I think about it, the more it makes sense to me.

At first of course, it sounded preposterous - I've spent my fair share at school and uni 'having to write' stuff and I've hated every second of it. What I enjoyed was writing what I wanted to write. 

But that was never just it. It wasn't something I dipped into every now and again to make up a story to pass the time or live out my greatest fantasies. Because looking back at the teetering mountains of notebooks, scrapbooks and folders of endless scrawls and rants that have remained my faithful companions since I was very small, I realise:

That luxury of choice was never mine.

As necessary as it is to sneeze when you feel that disconcerting tingle in your nose, or how you pop to the loo when you feel that familiar sensation, I've come to realise that writing is something I have no real say in doing.

And there's no greater proof of that to me than when I don't do it. 

Because I'll be at work, maybe driving in my car, lounging in bed on a lazy day or, as so often is the case, in the middle of showering, when with precise unfortunate timing, it will all just come to me. 

Before I can even realise what's happening, this constant whirlwind of thoughts in my head I've long since learnt to tune out for the sake of my sanity, suddenly collides in one big epiphany and an idea is born. But it doesn't just sit there, waiting. 

Like a chemical reaction this idea will begin to fuse with my consciousness and erupt into vast streams of letters and figures and sentiments and structure - sentences and phrases explode from the nucleus of this idea and shower down upon the rest of my mind, desperately trying to find an exit to be born into the world. 

So I leap stark-naked and precariously slippery from the shower and dart to my room to scramble for a notebook, or quickly excuse myself at work, pretending to go to the toilet whilst surreptitiously stealing a rogue piece of till receipt paper to write on, and I just open my soul and exhale these endless words onto paper to feel that sweet, sweet release. 

And if I am unable or reluctant to write something... I pay the price. I become insatiably restless and irritable, I even find my heart rate increasing and my ability to concentrate on anything else rapidly decreasing - it's genuinely like a physical reaction, a nagging child that is tugging at your hand, refusing to leave you in peace until you give them what they want. 

But once these words are allowed to come tumbling from my fingertips, and I have finally been able to unleash these pent up sentiments, my god, the feeling is euphoric. It's almost a divine purity, a complete freedom of that dogging anxiety that you weren't doing justice to something you had been gifted, a liberation from the guilty weight of holding on to something it was your duty to release. 

And you know, often when I look back it actually scares the shit out of me, because I will see words and sentences that seem an odd choice from me, things that I don't even remember writing.

Which made me gawp in open-mouthed in wonder when I stumbled across this TED Talk from Elizabeth Gilbert; 'The Elusive Creative Genius.'

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"In ancient Greece and ancient Rome -- people did not happen to believe that creativity came from human beings back then. People believed that creativity was this divine attendant spirit that came to human beings from some distant and unknowable source, for distant and unknowable reasons. They believed that a genius was this, sort of magical divine entity, who would come out and sort of invisibly assist the artist with their work and would shape the outcome of that work.

Why not think about it this way? Because it makes as much sense as anything else I have ever heard in terms of explaining the utter maddening capriciousness of the creative process. A process which, as anybody who has ever tried to make something knows, does not always behave rationally. And, in fact, can sometimes feel downright paranormal.

Even I have brushed up against that thing, at times. And I would imagine that a lot of you have too. You know, even I have had work or ideas come through me from a source that I honestly cannot identify. "

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It chilled me to my bones and excited me extraordinarily at how familiar that all sounded. The fact that I was not only alone in this idea, but had independently thought it, separate from the knowledge of others having thought it... well it fucking spoke to me. 

And when you really think about it, the act of actually reading is equally as baffling as the apparent surreality of writing. 



Caught in a reverie of wonder by this idea, I tweeted this off-handedly. The astronomical reaction was just a further indicator that showed there were so many others out there too, each independently having had these thoughts... How then, could it possibly be justified as something perhaps not even a little bit true?

Imagine for a moment, 

There truly are infinite universes.

Every thought, every idea, every dream you have ever had about a different world, does exist somewhere, because you had the ability to think it. That idea is a tangible 'thing', therefore by thinking it, you bought that reality into being.

Do not underestimate the notion of infinity. That means the world of Harry Potter exists, so does one entirely identical except Hedwig was a butterfly. And a billion other variants of that same world... and that's just one idea.

Perhaps all the while we exist, other realities and universes are pressing in amongst our own, but with dimensions that we cannot fathom, a membrane entirely unpermeable.  We cannot cross worlds, however much we wish to.

But there is a way to perceive these worlds, translate them into forms that we understand.

The only form of release is through these intermittent passages between worlds, certain people, people compelled by the ability to create art.

Fictional stories and films, ideas, dreams, fables, everything conjured from the human imagination is actually a message beamed from one reality to another and channeled through those predisposed with the ability to birth it. Those who find themselves completely consumed by creating, words or pictures or shapes just pouring out their bodies and minds, opening a pathway into reality from the art which flows in their bloodstreams, and the worlds that live, apparently, inside their heads.

And by god does it work. 

These people, born with the ability to breathe things into reality, things which did not exist before they allowed them to, can channel and relay messages from outside our bubble, to the inside, so that everyone else can experience it too.

When I start a good book, the switch from seeing words on paper to really truly living those worlds is almost instant. I find myself insatiably hungry to ingest more and more of the words, obsessing over it, ticking away the moments until I can get back and lose myself in the pages. It's as though the words actually nourish me in a way that I can't explain, like a long-awaited meal on a ravenous day, or a bursting through the finish line after an arduous, physically-draining journey and feeling the cool soothing rain on your exhausted face. 

It's like I can see this torrent of education and nourishment and growth rising up in this silver whisper from the book and flowing directly into the core of my mind, and I feel invigorated, completely alive as I devour each and every sentence, harvesting each new word I stumble across, which I linger upon like a chocolate in my mouth, as it dissolves and permeates into my vocabulary. 

Reading good writing really is magic, and sometimes it really baffles me that humanity and society have grown to accept that as the most average mundane thing, without really questioning the simply extraordinary and unexplaniable bizarre-ness of it all. 

And despite the decline in youth reading, I am firm in the belief that books will never die. 

The desire to curiously plunge into new, fantastical worlds is an unavoidable trait of humanity, and while the few and far between have ventured out into our own galaxy seeking a taste of another universe, the reality is, we have been curiously and unexplainably gifted the ability to recreate them in perfect form right here on earth, without even having to stand up. 

We have near countless realities right here and waiting, sitting nice and neatly in little wooden boxes on shelves in libraries and bookstores, ripe for the plucking. And boy oh boy, do they feel just like the real thing. 

And if still this seems something any less than magical to you, consider this.

If books were set to die, if storytelling were to become irrelevant, and people never meant to read,

Then why, after countless millenia of generations in the human race, 

Do the words still come?

I might not be a writer through particular choice or talent, maybe it's simply a case of being able to hear the whispers, but I know that for as long as I have thoughts in my head and the ability to hold a pen, I will forever and always, be a writer. 


36 comments :

  1. Will I never not be astounded on another level by your work Katie?

    ReplyDelete
  2. Such an interesting and thought provoking post, your writing never fails to completely engage me in thinking about a completely different perspective! I really enjoyed this and you are such a talented writer!
    Hannah x
    Hanniemc.co.uk

    ReplyDelete
  3. I'm so, so glad I found your blog - your writing is so thoughtful and so engaging, it's a real pleasure to read.

    little miss fii | Fii x

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  4. I don't know how you've managed to blend Platonic ideals with many world theory, but it kinda worked - even if I doubt many philosophers or theoretical physicists would quite get it.

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  5. Truly fantastic! I love how you pour your words out, and it makes sense. Brilliant.

    ReplyDelete
  6. Brilliantly written and totally true. I write because i feel the need to. It comes naturally to me. And i've totally beem there with the shower anecdote.

    Illustrated-teacup.blogspot.co.uk

    Rach x

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  8. Oh wow!
    Yes, yes!! writing is not a choice. It can be that annoying child!
    I am glad I am not the only one who has inspiritation at inconvienient moments... the moments where you can not possibly hold a pen.
    And yes, I saw the TED talk... a good one! helped me connect to my 'genius'

    a wonderful read.
    thank you xx

    ReplyDelete
  9. There is definitely something alchemical about good writing - the kind of response I get to a book by Jeanette Winterson, a short story by Angela Carter, an essay by Siri Husvedt... It's a mixture of physical and intellectual pleasure, the fizzing, whizzy delight of a good line or startling image. It's the satisfaction of flicking over the page, feeling like you've gained something special.

    In fact, most - although not all - of the writers I admire most pay extra-special attention to their use of language: Laurie Lee, Alan Garner, Sarah Maitland (I think you'd probably love her book Gossip from the Forest - mainly about forests and fairytales, but also the human need to tell stories), Margaret Atwood, Barbara Kingsolver, Virginia Woolf... the list continues.

    And yes, the absolute feeling of achievement in knowing that you wrote a sentence that conveys exactly what you want it to is hard to beat...

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