Why I Write

When I think of myself as a writer, I think of that moment three years ago when I abandoned Film Studies & Comparative Literature, Photography and Music, and decided instead to do a degree in Creative Writing. The decision came from a kind of ‘Eureka!’ moment, as not only a comprise between these subjects, but as a sudden understanding of how they all came together under one discipline and a sudden realisation of my love of poetry, narrative, suggestion and subtext. My musical aspirations were as a singer-songwriter with a special interest in lyricism, and my photography was almost always narrative based, inspired by poems and lyrics in content and inspired by cinema in lighting and composition.

I had been out of college for three years, for two reasons – firstly, I couldn’t decide what to study out of literature, film, photography and music; secondly, I felt academically disappointed, both by the institution of education and by myself. In my second year of college I felt resigned and dejected in receiving low grades for writing pieces and photographs which my teachers said were good, but did not hit the assessment criteria. I got bored with the lack of creativity in English and film, and indignant at the very little value the photography course placed in creativity. Consequently, I scraped through my second year of college by doing the absolute minimum. By the time I left, I was utterly fed up with education.

After a bleak period of working in retail with a team who could have their own reality show akin to TOWIE or Geordie Shore, I rediscovered my love for writing. I began working on poems and lyrics once more, with education still entirely disassociated in my mind from the writing process. One of the first poems I wrote in this time was ‘Trina’ – I sat down and made pages of notes on the themes I wanted to explore, link, set in opposition, and began writing a few hours later. My previous poems had been free verse, so I decided to try a strict rhyme scheme, ABABB, in more-or-less consistent iambic tetrameter. I kept writing poems and lyrics in my spare time while working in retail and then in hospitality for two years until my girlfriend at the time brought up the idea of returning to university.

At first I was sceptical, college had deterred me from further education, but it wasn’t long until I realised that I really wanted to learn again, and from what I had heard college and university were not in the least alike. I still had the problem of what to study. I continued making music, writing poems and lyrics and taking photographs, until I had my ‘Eureka!’ moment, and realised they were all connected. That was it, I was going to study Creative Writing.

For the first time in five years or so, I felt excited about the future. I’d grown up a bit – I wanted to learn, going to university was a choice that I had made. In the summer before I came to Falmouth I took a short Filmmaking course at Brighton City College to prepare me for my return to education and to learn the filmmaking basics so that I could record and edit my own films if I later wanted to make any. In further preparation, I began creating the world for my fantasy story (I was inspired by George RR Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire – he made me realise that the fantasy genre could be intelligent and adult, where before, to me, it had always seemed laughable and childish). So I began working on my fantasy story and after nine months, used it to practice my prose. I wrote about 30,000 words of my fantasy story before I came to university, all of which will be scrapped (bar one or two phrases or sentences) as so much has changed in the last two years. I’m still planning my fantasy story now, after almost four years, with no end in sight.

Planning is a huge part of my writing process: I take pages and pages of notes, spend hours daydreaming and working out the plot, themes and characters in my head, and I often write out, in detail, the events of a short story with notes on theme, suggestion and subtext before I begin the story itself. Sometimes in a seminar we are given short, then-and-there writing tasks which I always find difficult (I often only begin to write with a minute or two left) because I like to think things through. I find it interesting how different the writing process can be for different people. For example, I read an interview with William Gibson in The Paris Review in which he says that he begins a novel by writing the first sentence, he rarely takes notes and the notes he takes are usually cryptic and useless when he returns to them: he just writes and lets the story drive itself, amending and editing what he has written whenever he returns to the text. I remember a conversation I had with a friend about writing and noticed a difference in the way we view and approach writing poetry – I described words as something to ‘use’ whereas she described them as something to ‘say’. My inference was that I ‘use’ words as tools or building blocks to construct something purposefully, and that she ‘says’ words that express her views, feelings, emotions, with a strong sense that she is writing and communicating something about herself. I find the difference between writers’ approaches to and views of the writing process fascinating – how drastically different they can be. Though I think I’ll always plan meticulously and ‘use’ words rather than ‘say’ them, I’ve begun to experiment with different processes and approaches – I see them as different tools and techniques that I can adopt and apply to my craft, and as a way to broaden my writing, to give it depth as well as a wider reach of application.

Now, to suddenly jump backwards to before all of this. I said at the beginning of this long, long post that when I think of myself as a writer I think back to when I decided to study Creative Writing, but really it began a lot earlier than that. When I was seven or eight I loved Dr Seuss: I loved the rhythm and rhyme and I loved the strangeness of it all, the weird imagery and surreal narratives. I remember writing a Dr Seussesque poem about a clown when I was in primary school. A little later, lyrics became my thing. When I was ten my parents bought me a guitar and paid for my lessons and I began writing songs before I could even play the guitar, my first masterpiece being a song called ‘Rapping Farmer’ in which I rapped while sliding my hand up and down the nylon strings to imitate a DJ scratching a record. I started getting band lessons with a great man named Jem Hannam. The workshop was called Squeezebox Rocks, and Jem would teach kids aged 12-16 how to play together in band, help them workout songs and eventually write their own, and organise biyearly gigs. One of the original members of the band The Pipettes was a former Squeezeboxer. I was with Squeezebox Rocks for four years and over that time my song and lyric writing began to develop.

In year 10 of secondary school my writing began to broaden out from lyrics. My English Literature teacher, Hannah Richards, was incredible. She was the ideal teacher in that she inspired and enthused everyone in her class. She kindled my interest in poetry and taught me how to analyse writing, how to pick things apart and find the meaning hidden in a text. I began to write (bad) poetry, films reviews and even a bit of prose, and went on towards college excited about writing, literature and film. It’s a crying shame that college nipped that excitement in the bud and turned academia into something stale and stagnant. I learnt nothing in A Level English Lit that Ms Richards hadn’t already taught me at school and for two years I wrote nothing except for the occasional song.

But five years after leaving college, here I am, studying Creative Writing at Falmouth University. The course has restored my faith in academia and developed me significantly as a writer. Once Ms Richards had unearthed that passion in me, not even A Level education could bury it. I wrote Hannah Richards not long ago, letting her know what I was doing and thanking her for the huge part she played in my life’s story, and I thank her again here – I can’t thank her enough.

I guess there’s no real reason as to why I write other than it’s my thing and I love it. I couldn’t not write – writing is too deeply rooted in me, my childhood and my development as a person.

I am a writer – that is why I write.

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One thought on “Why I Write

  1. Pingback: Audience & Context – Presentation Transcript | Samuel H. Birnie

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