My writing group has started again, after a break, and we have quite a few new members. In true new group style, we had to introduce ourselves and say a little about our past experiences of writing. I was one of the first to go. I decided to keep it short and sweet as I didn’t think everyone would want to know all about the numerous attempts of writing I have had over the years. Nearly everyone else did the same. There is something about blowing our own trumpets that sits very uncomfortably with us Brits. There was even one lady who ‘omitted’ to tell us about the play she had just had on as she felt too embarrassed to talk about it.
On the bus on the way home, I mulled over what we had all said and wondered why it is that some of us feel compelled to write? Where does this compulsion come from? Why do I have it and not the rest of my family? Maybe they do. Perhaps I’m the only way brave enough to talk about it because when you tell people you are a writer you get one of two reactions. People either look at you aghast and say, “Really! Wow, that’s amazing!” Or they look at you aghast and say, “Really! A writer, you say? Who’d have thought you could write!” There’s no wonder we keep it to ourselves.
I thought about when my compulsion had started. It was whilst I was at primary school. Every week, we were given a topic, theme or idea and we would have to go home and write our own story based on it. I loved doing this. The chance to express yourself freely,and create your own worlds, characters and plots was something that I got well and truly lost in. I would write pages and pages and pages, whilst many of my peers would dash out one; perhaps two at a push. My stories were sometime read out to the rest of the class and this filled me with enormous sense of pride and achievement. I loved the fact that I had written something that an adult had deemed worthy enough to share with the class.
This love affair with creative writing continued until I hit my teens. Then the game changed. No longer was I asked to go away and create my own worlds, instead I was asked to go away and write about someone else’s. Poems, plays and novels were all dissected page by page, line by line, word by word, and then discussed, critiqued and written about. There was no time in the syllabus to write our own pieces. Not once was I asked to take something we had read as inspiration and go create. But we had exams to pass so that was my teacher’s focus. I sat my ‘O’ levels and went into the sixth form. I was given book after book to read, dissect, discuss, critique and write about. Then, one day, one of my teacher’s said, “I think it would be a good idea if we did some creative writing. Go away and write about whatever you want to. It can be a poem or a short story. Just go away and have some fun with it!”
Now you think this would be music to my ears. That I would be ecstatic at being able to write creatively again. That I would once again lose myself completely in a world I had created and write page after page. But I didn’t. Instead I went into a blind panic. After spending three years being told what to write, I didn’t know how to write for myself anymore and had lost all confidence in my abilities. So I did what all teenagers do when faced with a problem they don’t know how to tackle – I ignored it. In the end, I dashed off some ineffectual crap the night before. I wasn’t please with it or myself. I was cross and deeply disappointed that I could no longer write.
In my late teens, writing was a source of comfort to me. I had a pretty tough time and writing really helped me get through it. There maybe people reading this who knew me then that are surprised at my revelation. “We never knew,” they’d say. Of course not, I’m very good at keeping things to myself, and I’m terrible at verbal communication. My writing at this period of my life was not creative at all. It was purely a means to get out all the teenage aghast and crap that I was going through but not able to say to anyone. I poured my heart and soul out onto page after page. When I’d finished, I would rip it all up it tiny little pieces and throw them all into the bin. Then, I would feel a little better – for a short while at least. Nobody told me to do this. I never read the tip in a book or magazine. It just seemed to me the ideal way of dealing with it all.
My twenties and thirties were a hectic time of work, university and socialising (which is a polite way of saying I went out too much and drank too much). I thought many, many times about writing. I had all sorts of ideas that came to me, but the most I ever did was jot them down into a notebook for another day. And this is where writing differs from ever other aspect of my life. I constantly throw myself into new challenges. If I had a motto, it would be “It’s better to try and fail then to never try at all.” But with writing, it’s different. It means so much to me that, sometimes, I would rather not try at all than risk failure. And this is something that I am desperately trying to change.