31 July 2019
I’ve lost track of why I write. I like doing it probably isn’t enough. Saying that I don’t like talking doesn’t tell the whole story either. I entered my 25th year with the literacy level of an eleven or twelve year old, and by 27 I was enrolling at university. Those 2 years were pretty intense for many reasons, not least because I fell in love with reading, and I wanted to write back to all the people whose writing had affected me. Not literally write back, I didn’t send weird letters to folks who’d died long ago or living in a semi-detached house in suburbia, or wherever it is writers live. I just wanted to get in on the action, see if the thoughts that ran through my head were worth sharing.
To begin with it was just paragraphs, sometimes song lyrics, then it was film scripts and plays because capturing how people spoke came easier than capturing how I thought, then it was short stories, then it was a really bad novel which hopefully has disappeared into the digital ether. I wrote essay’s for college, but they creaked along with the vibrancy of broken furniture. But whatever the quality of it all, it was definitely the thing that made my mind feel least weighed down. The writing was both away to conceal and reveal myself, in a way that seemed far less exhausting than speaking. It gave me control over how someone might perceive me.
Over time I moved away from fiction, and into non-fiction, mostly overtly political articles in newsletters, and more personal is the political stuff for zines. For a little while there I wrote nothing but funding applications, call outs and campaign leaflets. Then I wrote the first drafts of the essay’s that would become Chav Solidarity.
One of the most common questions I’ve had whilst doing the book tour is what it feels like to have left myself so exposed, and whether the writing process was cathartic. And the truth is that it hasn’t really been cathartic, and I don’t feel exposed. Whilst I feel that the essay’s that make up that book are the most honest things I’ve ever written, and there aren’t many areas of my life that I’ve not delved into on some level, I still think some of the bluntness, the visceral nature of some of the essay’s cloaks me somehow. I doubt anyone who didn’t know me before reading it really knows much of me by reading it. At the same time the fact that it weaves together my personal life and my political ideas, means that often they shelter one another from too much examination. This wasn’t deliberate, it’s probably the biggest failing of the writing. And it’s why I feel propelled to write more. I haven’t articulated my experiences and the political thought that have come from them in way that is satisfying to me. Maybe essentially I want to be exposed. I want that catharsis of saying this is me, this is the inside of my head in all it’s unpolished glory. I don’t feel a need to be accepted, to be agreed with, but instead I write out of a desperate need to be understood. Or more accurately I write so that I have something to read when I try and understand myself.
At this point I treat writing like it’s work. It’s something that whether I’m feeling in the mood or not I will sit down with pen and paper, or in front of my laptop screen, disconnect my technology from the internet, and I will get something out. Most will never be used, most will get deleted despite spending four hours on it. I do this because I know it’s the only way to get better, to show myself respect, to show respect to the people who populate my essay’s, to show respect to the people who read what I have written.
As well as respect, I feel a responsibility. When I write about the people I have known and the lives we lived together, I am responsible for how those lives and those people are then perceived. Most of them will only be remembered by those who knew them, I am presenting them to people who never knew they existed. I am responsible to treat them well, to be honest, to avoid making them just instruments in the telling of my own story.
If I did not think our lives were worth examining I might not be writing, even when I look back on the fiction I have written it’s clear I was primarily finding ways to present lives that I have lived and people that I’ve known. So, when I do this badly I have to take responsibility for it, and work harder at it. Which means thousands of words deleted every week, which means forcing myself to sit down and write something, anything, even when I’m not in the mood. I treat writing like work, but the good kind of work, where the pressure to do it well is comes from myself, not from a boss or a wage.