Eileen Bennett is an experienced writer and editor, with an M.A. is Writing from NUI, Galway. Her career spans over 25 years in media with an eclectic focus on lifestyle, business and spirituality in a number of private and public sector organisations. Eileen has a keen interest in Social Media and technology.
THOUGHTS ON WRITING
By Eileen Bennett
There is a difference between writing creatively and being a creative writer. To write creatively, you need a plot, the ability to tell a story coherently and a reasonable grasp of language. To be a creative writer, however, you also need to be willing to explore the darkest recesses of your soul and make what Kafka called ‘the descent into the abyss of oneself’ until you find your own voice. Then you need to be brave enough to let it speak and to ‘fill your paper with the breathings of your heart’, as William Wordsworth said. Natalie Goldman advises writers to “Write what disturbs you, what you fear, what you have not been willing to speak about. Be willing to be split open’ and Joseph Campbell said, ‘The cave you fear to enter holds the treasure that you seek.’
This level of courage and honesty resonates with the reader, and he or she recognises themselves in the words because, at the most fundamental level, we are all the same. George Moore muses, ‘No tears in the writer, no tears in the reader,’ and Stephen King wrote, ‘A little talent is a good thing to have if you want to be a writer. But the only real requirement is the ability to remember every scar.’ A creative writer can reach into the reader’s soul and reflect what is in there, ‘because’ as Anne Lamott tells us, ‘this business of becoming conscious, of being a writer, is ultimately about asking yourself, How alive am I willing to be?’ Anais Nin described it like this; ‘the role of a writer is not to say what we can all say, but what we are unable to say’.
Good creative work reads as if the words have flowed onto the page and the blood, sweat and tears invested in the finished product are undetectable. Nathaniel Hawthorne commented, ‘easy reading is damn hard writing’ and Hemingway said ‘easy writing makes hard reading.’ Only another writer can fully appreciate the hours put in and the demons battled on the journey to ‘The End’.
The most pervasive of those demons is the ever-present self-doubt that lives on every writer’s shoulder and constantly instils subtle questions about his or her ability, credibility and justification for writing. It is what Sylvia Plath referred to as ‘the worst enemy to creativity’ because it causes writers to second-guess themselves, talk themselves out of good ideas, hesitate, procrastinate and invent excuses (albeit very creative excuses) for not facing what J.P. Priestley called ‘the icy challenge of the paper’.
Tennessee Williams confesses, ‘I don’t believe anyone ever suspects how completely unsure I am of my work and myself and what tortures of self-doubting the doubt of others has always given me.’
William Goldman described the demon of self-doubt as ‘the knowledge of your own terrible limitations, your hopeless inadequacy, the impossibility of ever getting it right,’ and Kurt Vonnegut said, ‘When I write, I feel like an armless, legless man with a crayon in his mouth.’
Gustave Flaubert tells us, ‘I am irritated by my own writing. I am like a violinist whose ear is true, but whose fingers refuse to reproduce precisely the sound he hears within.’
If writing is such hard work and if every writer is unsure about his or her ability to write, why does anybody write at all? Writers write because the other, equally demanding, demon possessing writers is the compulsion to write. This one is much harder to explain to non-writers. According to George Orwell, writing a book is ‘a horrible, exhausting struggle, like a long bout with some painful illness’. He adds, ‘One would never undertake such a thing if one were not driven on by some demon whom one can neither resist nor understand.’ Somerset Maugham said, ‘we do not write because we want to; we write because we have to,’ and Isaac Asminov agrees: ‘I write for the same reason I breathe … because if I didn’t, I would die.’
Perhaps Graham Greene explained it best when he said, ‘Writing is a form of therapy; sometimes I wonder how all those who do not write, compose, or paint can manage to escape the madness, melancholia, the panic and fear which is inherent in a human situation.’
Writers are, as Mario Varga Llosa said, ‘the exorcists of their own demons.’ We write because, in the words of Vladimir Nabokov, ‘The pages are still blank, but there is a miraculous feeling of the words being there, written in invisible ink and clamouring to become visible.’
Our job as creative writers is to reveal the invisible, give voice to the unspeakable, imagine the impossible, breath life into worlds, characters and situations and mould every experience, every thought, every emotion into the creation of something that could not exist unless we summoned it, tamed it, shaped it and presented it for all to see.