Well, what to say here? This is an article I wrote back in 1995 for no other reason than that it was the very first piece of writing I ever had published (3rd prize in a competition for which I was awarded the princely sum of £20). I’ve tidied it up a bit since then, but the text essentially remains the same …
Why Write? An interesting question you might agree, but one with a multitude of answers. The same question could well be asked of those who follow other creative pursuits. What compelled Van Gogh or Gaugin to paint, despite their sufferings, or Beethoven to compose even though he was profoundly deaf? Or, returning to my original question, the Bronte sisters to write when publication seemed an impossible dream? This passionate need for self-expression is in every writer who yearns to achieve authorship as their career. Many of course believe writing to be an easy job with huge financial rewards at the end of it; if money is your sole motivation then you are probably not a born writer. This isn’t to say money should not be a consideration, but its value to many writers is the freedom it allows them to work at what they most enjoy, in their own time and at their own pace. Then, a writer’s intention may merely be to entertain, which is I believe to be an excellent reason for writing; any occupation that brings light relief and enjoyment to so many people is an admirable one. To bring enjoyment to even one person can be a source of profound satisfaction:
“One of my greatest rewards came a year or two ago, mailed to me care of my publishers – an envelope with a Glasgow postmark containing a scrap of paper on which was written very simply, ‘thank you for all the enjoyment your books have given me’. It bore no address and no signature, and accompanying it was a Scottish pound note. I have never parted with either. That kindly gesture has been kept as a talisman ever since. My only regret is that I have never been able to thank that unknown reader.”
Rona Randell, (authoress)
If, in your own writing, you are fortunate enough to experience such a moment you may well be well on your way to answering the above question. For many though the urge to write is born out of circumstance. One important thing to appreciate is that writing is a solitary and often lonely occupation. This works both ways: writing leads to solitude, but solitude can also lead to writing. It is this last consideration that brings me to my own reasons for writing. It would be untrue to say that I had never wanted to write before a serious accident rendered me housebound for several months, but it was little more than an unconscious desire, submerged for the most part by the many competing attractions and obligations of everyday life, emerging only rarely during moments of quiet solitude, or after having read something particularly enjoyable or inspiring. It was only then I sometimes thought, yes, I’d like to write something like that and to write as well as that! But such occasions are few and far between. For myself it had always been impossible not to allow the pressures of family and everyday life combine to make any serious attempt at writing an impractical, if not impossible dream; perhaps I used this as an excuse, for indeed there are many who overcame such obstacles to realise their dreams, but for me, the constant rationalisation that there was always tomorrow, the day after, or the weekend, to start putting pen to paper, held me back. My own fault I admit. What made me do so was, again, among other things, having read a book that I found particularly enjoyable, Nineteen Eighty-Four if I remember correctly. Upon finishing it I decided I too would like to write something similar (or at least try). Being housebound as I was I felt as trapped and imprisoned as is possible to be short of being a guest of Her Majesty. Ironically though it was those very circumstances that provided the very time and freedom I needed to write – or at least freedom from all the excuses that had fed my past procrastination. Thus finally inspired, my main obstacle was to put down that first word, a daunting prospect for any fledgeling writer. But once you have taken that first step the writing becomes easier. Word follows word, sentence follows sentence, and paragraphs take shape to form chapters until such time as that elusive first poem, article, short story, or even a novel may one day emerge. It may seem ironic, even absurd that such an incapacity might provide one with any kind of freedom, but given the right attitude and self-discipline it can be equally surprising just how conductive a temporary restriction of one’s physical freedoms and mobility can actually be to any new, or even I should imagine an experienced writer. Cut off from many of the distractions of the outside world and pursuits of ordinary life, being housebound encouraged me to call upon the resources of my imagination and experience. One only has to think of those have found themselves truly cut off from the outside world, I speak of course those writers and authors who have for whatever reason begun or continued their writing whilst in prison: Dostoevsky, Oscar Wilde, Daniel Defoe, and, more recently, the likes of John McVicar, and Jimmy Boyle. Evidently, solitude can be developed into a valuable resource. It can enable one to get in touch with one’s deepest feelings, to form ideas, and encourage the growth of one’s creative imagination, culminating in the elusive ‘written’ word. But what of the benefits of writing? Not the obvious ones of possible fame and fortune, but the more personal, more intimate? During those months of recovery, it would be absurd to suggest that writing in any way changed the physical reality of my situation but it did provide an enjoyable and often fascinating pastime, a marvellous form of escape if you like. It was only when I was alone, with a pen, paper, and a desire to write that I finally produced my first literary efforts. The circumstances were far from ideal but with pen in hand (or fingers on a keypad these days), a few ideas, and a fair degree of imagination, I could be anywhere in the world, create any scenario – an entire world and its characters were there for me to create and immerse myself in. Often I would find myself totally absorbed in what I was trying to say and the struggle involved in trying to transform my thoughts into some form of readable prose. This was not always and indeed still isn’t an easy task. My recovery was slow but nonetheless eventually complete, and my enforced solitude came to an end. It was by no means the ideal milieu for my writing but it was the catalyst for it for which I shall always be grateful. To conclude then, there is no magic formula as to how or why people write. Only you, the writer, can answer that question. And for each of us, I suspect the answer will be different. But whatever the reason, only you can make it happen: imagination, a love of words, creativity, enthusiasm, and the desire to write – those are your tools. All you need is to take the opportunity to use them.
Twist In The Tale, by Mathew Williams (available on Amazon kindle)
A great little collection of short stories, each with an unexpected ending that surprises or makes you smile, or both. There’s a nice variety of stories here, from the heart-warming to the slightly dark, so the reader is never quite sure what they’ll be getting next, but is never disappointed. One particular story, ‘Only Make Believe’ was as gentle and heart-warming as is hard to imagine, and, without giving anything away, the final line brought as wide a smile to my face as I can remember.
If I had to make one tiny criticism, and it’s nothing to do with my enjoyment, it would be that I would have preferred a slightly more informative description in the amazon blurb as there really isn’t enough grab the ‘potential’ reader’s attention. And on a purely selfish note, I would have liked a few more stories to make for a longer read. Well worth reading…
Ebook & Self-Publishing? Some personal thoughts on the matter…
Despite its success, the whole ebook and amazon kindle phenomenon has not been without its critics, and concerns about its effects on the more traditional publishing industry. It’s true that the advent of the internet and the rapid expansion of free or relatively inexpensive self-publishing via Amazon, Smashwords, blogging, and a host of others has resulted in a lot of, shall we say, ‘less than professional’ writing to be made available.
Proponents of traditional publishing might well argue that with a traditional and well known publisher, the reader is assured of the quality of the writing in advance? I don’t know about your experiences but for myself, I’ve read some pretty awful stuff in traditional print too, long before Amazon was little more than a barely known webpage.
In answer to the last point though, if a title and cover grab your interest, then both Amazon and Smashwords provide the facility to browse through free samples of whatever you’re considering buying. And since many of the books, including most of the classics on both Amazon and Smashwords are either free or in many cases, less than a few pounds, such arenas have made reading a lot more accessible and affordable for a lot of people. I know my own reading has doubled, if not trebled, in both quantity and variety since I got my Kindle.
Much of the early criticism of self-publishing was by way of comparison to ‘vanity publishing’, where hopeful writers might be lured into parting with thousands of pounds following exaggerated praise of their work and promises of best-selling success. But today? Self-publishing is completely free with little more than a few basic internet skills, and even without those skills, it can still be achieved with for little more than a hundred pounds or so. Yet still there is criticism that any amount of money aspiring writers might spend promoting their work is at best, optimistic, and at worst, delusional. But why? Not every amateur writer has aspirations of becoming the next Zadie Smith or Harold Robbins. For many, it’s just an enjoyable hobby, so why shouldn’t they spend whatever they like on it if it brings them satisfaction? Apart from writing, other hobbies of mine include cycling, outdoor pursuits, keep fit, sports, all of which I’ve spent money on over the years; if it’s acceptable for golfing and motor cycling enthusiasts to spend hundreds, if not thousands on their hobby, without the slightest hope or intention of profiting from it, why not writers too? Even bloggers, for whom their writing platform is the simplest and freest of all, might well spend a small amount for a premium theme to improve the look of their work.
The evolvement of the self-publishing arena can in many ways be compared to that of the music industry. In the past ten or fifteen years we’ve seen the virtual disappearing of all the traditional mediums of music. Vinal and cassette tape are now largely collectors items; even the CD is losing ground to the ipod and digital downloads. Many of today’s biggest recording stars started their careers building their audiences on the likes of Youtube and Myspace. And even the traditional method of ‘gigging’, is that so very different from blogging?
Whatever one might think of ebooks, the Kindle, Amazon, Smashwords, blogging, and many other forms of self-publishing, they’re all here to stay in one form or another. Let’s embarace and make the very most of them….