Border Mail Column, Wednesday 30 March, 2011
I’ve always loved to write and been fortunate that this passion has been the foundation of many aspects of my professional life, but I also largely write for the pleasure of it.
Writing, whether it is fiction or nonfiction, helps me make sense of the world and sometimes what I write connects with others.
To me, writing is akin to breathing: if I don’t write I feel as though I am restricted and not taking in enough oxygen to sustain me.
I understand that the passion for words and interpreting the world through them is not everyone’s cup of tea, but it is something most people can do.
What makes them hesitate, not start or completely stop is of great interest to me.
Leading a creative writing workshop last weekend I asked people about their writing experience and what they would like to get out of the day.
‘There are things I want to write, but just don’t know where to start. I just don’t think I am good enough,’ offered one participant.
This person is not alone in her response with our attitude to the act of writing often growing from our early experiences.
I remember years ago interviewing Dr Brian Cambourne who promoted a concept of ‘raw writing’ which he believed would encourage children to write freely, without the restrictions of perfect spelling and perfect grammar; this could come later.
This method was similar to the way children learnt to speak: if they used the wrong word or version of it a parent or teacher didn’t tell them they were wrong, but responded to them using the correct word.
He related the story of a boy who excitedly showed his father the story he had written at school, only to have his dad go through it with a red pen and tell him it was rubbish. After this, the boy barely wrote another word.
The red pen has a lot to answer for.
Julia Cameron in her book ‘The Right to Write’ offers this view.
‘For me, writing is like a good pair of pajamas comfortable. In our culture, writing is more often costumed up in a military outfit. We want our sentences to march in neat little rows, like well-behaved boarding-school children.’
The rules and regulations result in many people holding their pen above the blank page or looking at a blank screen and never getting started.
Imagine if we took this view to all of the things we did in life, particularly those things we love to do, our hobbies and our passions?
We love to play tennis and know we are never going to play professionally; we love to sing but know that we won’t make it to the Opera House; we spend time in the pursuits that make us happy and fulfil us as people.
We might even have lessons to improve our skills in our chosen hobby but nobody suggests that we should not do this because we’ll never make it to the top, but people stop writing, or sometimes don’t even start because they feel they will never be good enough.
But good enough for what?
Publication may be the ultimate goal for some; however, writing for your family, someone you love or just for yourself is just as valid and can be extremely fulfilling.
By the end of the workshop there were new poems; stories of journeys real and imagined, the beginnings of new short stories and a palpable sense of achievement.
We had discarded our uniforms, changed into our comfy pj’s and reclaimed our ‘right to write’.