I was asked this question when I started going to writing workshops. Panic-stricken, I’d wait as the query inched its way around the room until it was my turn to nutshell it. Having to qualify a reason for something so innate makes me feel like a fake. Plus, I have an anti-reason for the whole writing thing, something I’d never confess to in room full of real writers. The anti-reason is this: What’s not to write? I can’t stop writing. I can’t stop! I can’t stop to the point that I am simultaneously ecstatic and horrified to find myself tapping the keyboard at four in the morning sometimes. Writing for me is a dance that never ends. It’s like living my own version of that macabre fairytale The Red Shoes, (eh, not to be confused by the TV series of the same title). Times I’m dancing with the words night and day. Words binge, words hangover, words topping up, early house words, late licence words.
The poet Georgina Eddison, who also happens to be my aunt, understands this. When we meet at family doos, the chat goes something like, ‘So, how’s it going?’ It meaning the writing. The last time we met it was over my gran’s open casket in a funeral home. The question carried more weight than usual – writers go into word freefall when a death occurs. Think of the the possibilities? Eulogies, soliloquies, obituaries, poignant verse, biblical quotes — what’s not to write on the passing of a loved one? Except the novel that is. Draft 2 had been giving me author’s abuse for months; mental black eyes, standoffs, characters not doing what they should. ‘I keep going back to it.’ I complained to my aunt, noting at the same time that my gran (who wrote poetry up till her death) looked so fine laid out, a beautiful woman, even in death, the poise of her. ‘Why can’t I just give writing up?’
‘You don’t give-up writing,’ my aunt reminded me, ‘IT gives you up.’
Well, that quit my whingeing. That, and the feel of my gran’s stone cold hands in my warm ones. Since then draft 2 is completed, and handed over to an agent. Lately I don’t try to tame the compulsion to write, but see it as a blessing lest one day it breaks it off with me…and I find myself…wordless.
The next time someone asks me ‘Why do you write?’ I might say:
I write because I love dancing. Dancing is innate to me. If I’m lucky, I’ll be dancing till I die.
It may not be the ideal answer in a room full of people, but at least I know what I mean, for now.