Thursday, August 26, 2010

Unthinkable

by Ashley Lister

Dr Samuel Johnson said, ‘No man but a blockhead ever wrote for anything but money.’ Whilst Dr Johnson was an eminent authority on Shakespeare, a lexicographer par excellence, and a wry wit, he showed on this occasion that he had a penchant for talking out of his arse.

I write. I try and sell the things I write. Sometimes I get money. A lot of the time I get rejections, heartache and digestion problems. But I don’t just write for the money. I write because, if I didn’t write, my life would be empty.

Does that sound melodramatic? Yes. I know it does. Does that sound like I’m diminishing the fulfilment I get from family, friends and pets? Yes. I probably am.

But every social interaction I’ve had since I was twelve has been accompanied by the thought: how would this read in a novel? Every conversation, kiss and interaction has been made memorable by the thought: I could write about this. And every memory I’ve committed to paper, through fiction or essay or poetry, has been relived and re-experienced in exquisite detail.

Do I write because it makes me popular? No. Writers aren’t rock stars. Most people shit bricks when you tell them you’re a published author, probably because they’re scared that you’re going to try and sell them a copy of your latest book. Either that or the boring bastards want to tell you about the book they’d like to write. Trust me: writing doesn’t make a person popular.

Do I write because I have a burning desire to tell a story? Don’t get me started on this one. Writing classes tell us to show, not tell. And then we’re expected to tell a story. Someone is clearly fucking with my head here. Are we story-show-ers or story-tellers?

Do I write because the characters in my head want their stories putting on the page? I don’t think so. I believe this is called multiple-personality disorder and is a symptom of being insane. I’m not insane and I have a certificate to prove it.

I write for one simple reason: the alternative is unthinkable.

14 comments:

  1. Fascinating, Ash,

    I've written all my life. But I've never thought the way you did, you know, relating everything to writing. Guess you're the reincarnation of some great author or something. Were you a prodigy?

    Warmly,
    Lisabet

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  2. Hi Ash,

    I also found your description about relating your experiences to writing interesting—it hadn't occurred to me quite that way either, but it did remind me of something I remember doing as a kid. I started writing when I was seven, and I remember, without really thinking about it as I recall, phrasing and describing things in my head sometimes the way I would if I were writing it. So if I were walking across a snowy playground, for example, I might find myself saying in my head how I would describe that if I were writing it/putting it in a story. For some time in my youth I just thought everyone did this. :)

    All best,
    Em

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  3. Lisabet,

    It would be cool if a I was the reincarnation of a great author. Most likely I should just have a mental illness after me :-)

    And I wish I had been a prodigy. I've only ever excelled at goofing off.

    Best,

    Ash

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  4. Em,

    I still think everyone does what you describe - iterating scenarios inside your head for how they should appear on the page.

    This is one of the reasons why I have difficulty relating to some people who just have no interest in reading or writing fiction.

    Best,

    Ash

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  5. You write, because you can't not write. You write because life is a story and it needs telling properly and you write because you have all these thoughts and ideas bubbling away inside you and if you didn't you'd explode, or go mad, or kill somebody with the frustration.

    It doesn't make you popular, but it does keep you sane. (Writing as therapy?) The money is nice too. But if any of us wrote just for the money we'd die of starvation.

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  6. Ash - (cues the Clash)
    Darling, you gotta let me know
    Should I tell or should I show?
    If you give me a mike for my rhyme,
    I'll natter on til the end of time,
    So you go to let me know
    Should I tell or should I show?

    Writers - we're an oddly obsessed bunch.

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  7. Hi Ash.

    I guess in the end, that's what it comes down to one way or the other. Our life would be diminished if we didn't write, however we explain it.

    When I was a kid I thought writing would make me popular. I'd bring my typewriter to a party but then some guy would bring an electric guitar and shut me down . . .

    Garce

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  8. Someone is clearly fucking with my head here. Are we story-show-ers or story-tellers?

    HahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahaHA! (I particularly like Kathleen's take on that passage.)

    And, spouses and children--eh. But fluffy balls of crazy, evil, slow, sweet fur--now, you can't possibly diminish that fulfilment. I'm just sayin'...

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  9. Tracey,

    I've just received my royalties from one publisher and your comments about dying of starvation have never rung more true.

    Best,

    Ash

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  10. Kathleen,

    If you were genuinely singing that at an open mike evening I wouldn't have the heart to cut the amp. I'd be in fits with the rest of the audience.

    Best,

    Ash

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  11. Garce,

    Was it an acoustic typewriter or an electric one? That can make all the difference.

    Best,

    Ash

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  12. D.L.

    The furballs all send their love and want to know when you're visiting again. If it makes it easier I can ship a couple of them over to you :-)

    Best,

    Ash

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  13. "I write for one simple reason: the alternative is unthinkable."

    Amen Brother Ash!

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  14. Michelle,

    I've just read your post on this topic and I see we sing from the same hymn sheet :-)

    Ash

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