There is a magnetism passing between writers and books, once you determine yourself to be a ‘writer’.
Each passing year, this magnetism draws millions of our brethren to publisher’s craggy shores, where we proceed to beach ourselves, time and time again, with the same intense mystery of the whales attraction to land, not for health, not for wealth, and most certainly not for happiness.
Well, after a year off from tapping keys, with much ruminating (if bouts of laziness could bear such description), and spectating the year that print bit its last pillow, I have discovered something unholy: I am not a writer after all.
A brief flashback: I can remember the day I became a ‘writer’. Fifteen years ago I started work as a copywriter for a local newspaper. It was monkey work really, ‘writing’ in the same way turning screws is ‘carpentry’, but the day I started my boss took me in front of our department and introduced me: “this is the new writer”.
Proud as peach I was and soon after I joined the club, which I presumed to have many members, though scant few of these I would actually meet in the flesh over the next 15 years.
But what I have come to realise is that the introduction was as much for the sake of my colleagues as it was for me. People invariably turn to classification to understand and make sense of the world, and writers are as much a product of colourful box art as any other.
So I am not a writer, but writing is a skill I possess. And perhaps I’ve practiced it enough to be better at it than most of my friends and family. I am not saying I am god’s gift to literature, but I have had enough success, even early on, to know that I’m unlikely to begin a story with the main character waking up (unless of course, I’m being ironic).
Though the idea of being a writer provides solidarity with colleagues, the truth is that our alikeness as writers is perhaps more akin to shared unease, victims of the same consequence as we poke our fat little skins into dubiously sized holes.
The last year has convinced me that writing is a symptom of a much stronger impulse, to create story. And where I have been limited is in my preoccupation with the industry of one particular medium, instead of concentrating more effort on the message.
Writing is a chore. We all admit this at some point. But when it is working, it is like all the best smelling things in the world suddenly crammed up your nose.
I used to think that feeling was the pay off for learning the craft, but now I suggest that when ‘it’ is working, is when all the mechanical human movements disappear, and what remains is story. And this story could exist in any medium, if we just uncoupled ourselves for a moment from the industry of books and recognised our real talent.
You are a story teller, first and foremost, the rest is just sleight of hand.