Why do we write? This is a question that writers the world-over ask themselves when they are assigned a project they find prosaic, or when their own pet-piece has fallen at a literary-philosophical-obstacle: writer’s block, harsh criticism from another writer or a highly-thought-of reviewer’s acerbic new opinion in some forced and tedious reappraisal of that year’s work. Here, the writer himself, like all of us under scrutiny, forgets the very evident point that such reviewers are failed writers because of their inability to perfectly structure their own masterpieces; therefore the tendency to re-review and forget a preceding review is second-nature to a critic, and it always make him or her feel a little Schadenfreude: pedantry and nastiness makes us all feel a little superior in this age of powerful and more stringently-held hierarchies – we laugh at Ronald Reagan or Arnold Schwarzenegger having senior power in America, but what we label as ridiculous is, in reality, a compulsion to stick to the structures of power and education we have, since birth, been put through.
There are, then, quite substantial reasons not to write, which we can couple with even more obvious downsides: the huge time-and-effort in constructing a narrative, the dependency on the computer (and the subsequent need to wear glasses – although this does keep a lot of opticians in business), and the heavy reduction in socialising; something which quite often ruins the lives of those people who wish to comment on the lives of everyday men and women. So, in reality, how can such writing be anything more than a detached stereotype of a working-middle-class lifestyle? To write, in the style of many writers who lock themselves away for months on end to achieve their oeuvre, is quite frankly against the goal of their writing: exposure of social ills. Surely, they would do far better immersing themselves in the community and helping to change those ills proactively than behind a lonely desk, in some old, but extremely comfortable, round chair.
What does writing allow us to do?
Well, let’s take it from a different perspective. What does writing allow us to do? Primarily, it shows a certain style and that whoever is being allowed to be read, whether in a newspaper, a journal or a book, has gone through academic, nepotistic or other more lurid circles to get to that position. In short, it is a profound status symbol, which boils down to the idea that all voices are equal because I am discussing certain ideas that we can both relate to (if you couldn’t you’d become bored of the text and stop reading it); however because it is in your mind while you read, my voice is more equal than yours – to paraphrase Orwell. It is a method of manipulation and control.
The controlling aspect of writing is quite obvious to us in modern times, particularly when we are all told so much about Nazi, Soviet, and, to an extent, our own propaganda during the two World Wars (although in such history lessons, the Axis and Soviet’s is described as frightful and demonic, whereas ours is portrayed as a necessary evil.) Yet, this didactic power is so well known that it leads us to one of the primary reasons why we write: for posterity’s sake.
Writers are a highly neurotic breed…
Writers are a highly neurotic breed and face the question of posterity and legacy a lot quicker, and more often, than any other profession: everyone else is too busy to brood over something as confusing and unanswerable, something which is ultimately self-defeating and pointless. Writers, however, have too much time to read some Freud, psychoanalyse their own existence and analyse their literary colleagues who have been successful in keeping on a legacy. This legacy is, quite frankly, a means by which older, epic writers, poets and playwrights have been kept alive through a never-ending compulsion by the state to use such archaic texts in education. In reality, the dream of any writer would be this annual access to students – a veritable perpetual legacy.
To be remembered by those in the future as the person who gave others – of course, not just one student, but many – the drive to achieve their dreams and become a writer is, evidently, phenomenal and attractive. What is paradoxical about this is that this new writer would, in turn, wish to usurp his or her former literary idol’s position. Moreover, writers forget that education isn’t always so kind when it comes to their work. Students, the majority of them, gain a great loathing of texts they are forced to read, and are usually put off by such an unnaturally-taught process. A potentially fantastic novel is reduced to “boring and banal” by a pretentious teenager, which, if heard by the author, would probably reduce him or her to tears – let alone suicide (see Plath S. Any volume).
For evidence of this, one need only look at Harper Lee or J. D. Salinger and how their books, more or less, made them into complete social recluses. The status as an unknown, however, does have its benefits. Harper Lee has stated that writers should never be visually famous and should blend in with the world, which explains the reasons for writers generally becoming recluses, but does not sit alongside well with the modern dream of writing: to have the unstoppable fame, wealth and influence of Rowling, Amis, or McEwan.
Global Fame is quite crucial to the reason why people write now. It gives posterity and unprecedented wealth (Rowling, alone, is worth around £400 million) which, in turn, makes anything that author creates turn to gold (Rowling is an absolute genius at this – see Beedle and the Bard). Writing has become more and more a dream of making immense fortunes and it’s usually though a reworking of universal and well-established narratives, but directed at a different niche market: Harry Potter, Twilight. Writing then becomes a market strategy rather than a method of expression and philosophical thought.
All of this highly cynical opinion being said, why do the majority of us write; why am I writing this article when I am sure that it will never be a huge hit? Well, there is a certain amount of legacy and potential fame, but there is also an immense pleasure and comfort in this art form. To me, writing is on the same level as any oil-painting, Neo-Classical sculpture, or Romantic Concerto. It is not just the way in which it combines and evokes in the mind any idea (see how three have just entered yours), but also the feel of the instrument whether it be pen or keyboard (I do have a preference for a pen, but you have to move along with the times), and the cathartic energy that the arm and hand suddenly exude. Roland Barthes, a French literary philosopher (a highly theoretical term in itself), wrote quite extensively, but not at length, on the great pleasure we feel by just writing – no-subject-required. Perhaps then we do only write because we like it?