Is your writing ego-driven? Are you, in your fantasy life, interviewed on Radio 4 by some really clever person? As you write, do you perhaps picture yourself on Breakfast TV’s red sofa, explaining what inspired your latest best-selling children’s book or modestly outlining plans for your upcoming stint as Poet Laureate? Did you read Stephen King’s account of his journey from hospital laundry (maggots crawling up his arms) to best-selling wonder-person and find yourself being Stephen King?
Now, on your Desert Island, is there going to be any point in writing?
Our island is metaphorical, of course. Desert Islands come in all shapes and forms – poverty, disability, obscurity … unpublishability. In fact I discovered a new kind of Island only yesterday.
As you will see from my previous post my blog ‘stats’ stopped working, or appeared to have. Normally I get feedback on the number of people who have looked at my blog and the countries they are in at the time. But for a day and a half there was nothing: no lit up countries, no nice little national flags. I had no way of telling whether this was computer weirdness or whether there actually was nobody at all in the entire universe reading my blog. Suddenly I didn’t feel in the least like writing, or posting. Oh, woe, whatever’s the point, I was asking myself, if even that one inexplicable individual in Bosnia Herzegovina will not be perusing my deathless prose? And then the penny dropped – time to put your money where your mouth is, Clever Clogs – time to answer your own Desert Island Question. Post on into the CyberVoid intrepid BlogLady – if you dare.
Something to mull over, from American poet Emily Dickinson:
‘Publication is not the business of poets.’
Can we lump prose writers and poets together? Well, yes and no. I see it as a continuum, with, on the extreme left ART FOR ART’S SAKE* and on the extreme right MONEY FOR GOD’S SAKE**.
* L’art pour l’art – French philosopher Victor Cousin, early 19th Century
** Money for God’s Sake (10CC – more recently)
On the whole I’d say poetry – real poetry, not the verses you find in greetings cards and newspaper obituary columns – falls close to the Art for Art’s Sake end of the scale, if only because a person is lucky to get a poem published anywhere let alone make any money out of it – so if they persist with poetry they are likely to be doing so for love.
Prose is harder to locate between the two extremes. There are many ‘craftsmen’ writers who, although they enjoy writing and are good at it, do it solely to make a living. On our metaphorical Desert Island, with no prospect of, or need for, remuneration, they would probably be channelling their energies elsewhere: using some of that delicious stash of paper to design a raft, or to draw up plans for a three-story, dual-aspect extension to the hermit’s cabin. They would be figuring out better ways to catch fish, or constructing ingenious bridges out of liana vines to cross the ravine which I have just this minute discovered divides the island practically into two. They might pause to pop a message into a bottle: no harm in covering all angles.
And then there are – or we must presume there are – the ‘artist’ writers, those who write because they must, or because writing serves some sort of higher purpose for them.
Flannery O’Connor famously said she wrote ‘because I don’t know what I think until I read what I say’. I find this too. I find it difficult to follow a line of reasoning through to the end, feel overwhelmed sometimes by the chaos of new ideas. Everything splinters; it’s so hard to hold on to, like living inside a kaleidoscope. But when I write the shiny fragments settle down and start to form a picture. The more I write the clearer the picture becomes. I don’t express myself very well verbally, either. I used to mind a great deal about being forced into the role of Good Listener whereas inside I knew myself to be a Rampant Natterer. I am more sanguine nowadays, consoling myself with the words of Michel de Montaigne:
The world is all babble, and I never met a man who did not talk more, rather than less, than he should; yet half our lives are wasted in this way.
(Essay: On the Education of Children)
To be continued…