It seems these days everyone wants to write a book. That every podcast, brand, content creator, or individual with a story wants to crystallise some part of themselves or their ambition in a printed work. Publishing a book still has its prestige. Of course, there is self-publishing as an option but being backed by a publishing house holds weight because it requires external endorsement and financial investment. But in a multi-platform reality, not everything needs to be a book – some things do belong online or should live as a viral article or on a podcast.
Wonderful piece, thank you.
“To write is to slip through the seams of a sentence, it’s sewing together the fraying tendrils damaged through the destruction of existence, it’s exposing something sometimes repugnant and sometimes true – often both. It makes sense then that it’s hard to sit down and do it. And it makes further sense why it’s so thrilling and indicative of desire.”
Wow. Nailed it.
Beautifully put Abigail - the constant angst, turmoil and days of wondering why the hell do I bother? Is all because we can’t help ourselves. It’s what makes us who we are. Thanks for a brilliant post.
Correct. You either write, despite of all the odds or simply drown in your own mystery - whether or not you acknowledge it
Thank you for articulating the unexplainable unease I experience most days and making it beautiful xx
Best Substack yet! x
"The world beckons, is compelled to disturb, coming in to undo the stitches we’ve spent hours on in sentence surgery. Leaving someone alone, allowing for that itching feeling as they float away from the matrix and into their own reality is something writers and those who surround them contend with." - Loved your thoughts on the yin to the yang of creativity. I've chased external validation for various endeavors over the years. Writing is the first one in which I may be feeling what Colm Tóibín said - I don’t [always] want to do it. But I can’t help it, I have to. I have to write; it’s who I am.’
This is just gorgeous. Thank you for writing it. I’ve thought often about how writing a book is such a counterintuitive act in 21st century land - and you’ve articulated it so beautifully (as well as the reality of being published).
Loved reading this. Writing can be such a solitary experience. Thank you for reminding me - again - that I'm not alone in these thoughts. X
I love this piece! It's inspiring me to write a post about the subject on my Substack. Especially since many quotes from my past readings have stood out to me as I read your piece (which I shall share underneath, and maybe, one day, in a proper Substack post ;))
I felt a little provoked by what the editor says. But maybe that's because I'm on my period. Still, though, it prompts me to want to answer:
While it's very true that for many stories, we could ask about "who cares?", I think it's the wrong question to ask. I think if a story is well told/written, it will aways appeal to someone, even though "appeal" is an understatement, a vague word.
But "well told" is the caveat. If it's not, then it is very hard or impossible to care. Simple explanations: our shortened attention spans don't have the patience for some stories that unfold in the wrong way, or are murky. It's not about the what per say, but about the execution.
But so what, the story has been said before? And who's to say who cares about a story told again from a fresh perspective (for after all, from a different person's lens, clichés shed a different light.)? ‘Everything that needs to be said has already. Been said,’ wrote André Gide. ‘But since no one was listening, everything must be said again.’
In the same line: ‘Our lives are an inventory of clichés,’ wrote professor Joe Moran in his absolutely stellar writing book First You Write A Sentence. ‘All of it has happened already to everyone else, for at least as long as people have written it all down. Toddler rages, family dramas, adolescent strops, asymmetrical fallings in and out of love, toxic friendships and enmities, worrying and delighting over children, thwarted or fudged ambitions, the slow-motion hurtle into ageing and dying — and in between, snatched moments of laughter, enlightenment and joy. All very commonplace and predictable. But these clichés still have to be lived, and written about in a way that shows how Sui generis they feel when they are. As Masha says in Chekhov’s “The Three Sisters”, ‘we each have to solve our own lives.’ And, she might have added, we each have to write our own sentences."
But, as you write, it is the necessity of the act of writing, in the end, that is the reason why we do it. We find this truth in ourselves, and in other writers. Margaret Atwood said it, giving us a quirky à-la-Atwood phrase: "not good for anything else." Rainer Maria Rilke said it, in his famous Letters to a Young Poet: “Go into yourself. Find out the reason that commands you to write; see whether it has spread its roots into the very depths of your heart; confess to yourself whether you would have to die if you were forbidden to write.”
But whereas it's drudgery for a LOT of writers to just, well, write and finish a piece, whether a novel or an essay collection or whatever; sometimes, for other writers, it isn't like this. The work is not always equals suffering. I think it's important not to pin the act of writing into this "bleeding-into-the-page" narrative. While it is a metaphor that stands, blood is immediately a gruesome image. Bleeding onto the page does not seem peaceful.
As I sometimes "bleed" my thoughts, my feelings, my fragmented memories fictionalised, onto paper - I feel at home in my sanctuary of work. At peace, even.
When I read Haruki Murakami's - unquestionably a literary giant with millions of fans translated into so many languages - memoir "Novelist as a Vocation", I found echoes of what you write about in this piece. Murakami himself is not someone who likes the limelight. He doesn't do author interviews, he shows up once for awards to "represent Japan" in foreign countries, but never in his own country. He shies away from the camera, from what many authors can only be too happy to shine under. He writes “A literary prize can turn the spotlight on a particular work, but it can’t breathe life into it. It’s that simple." But he also writes that he enjoys the drudgery. He enjoys the WORK put into writing and rewriting and sculpting his drafts and sentences. It's not work that makes him suffer.
And the more I read accounts like these, the more it puts things into perspective. Yes there may be hard days where you just want to hurl your laptop across the room. But are some days really that hard that all writers would feel that urge? I know I do, because that's just my temperament. I find it a peculiar curse to be so impatient, yet the only thing I want to do with my life and my days is write and write and write something that has a form and a life of its own. And I know it's not a "quick" act.
I'll end with a final quote from Murakami's "Novelist as a Vocation":
“Anyone in their right mind would never undertake to write a novel in the first place. Given the circumstances, therefore, it is perfectly acceptable to be deranged as long as you are aware of that fact.”
...and the beauty of sharing a moment, or someone else actually feeling recognised in your words, and there you have it synchronicity. Right time, right place, right page, and miraculously you have given someone the strength to carry on with their day that right now just doesn't seem so frustrating.
Thanks for this, Abigail. I've just subscribed to your newsletter and this particular essay chimes with so much of what I'm thinking about my writing life at present. I have a memoir out on submission, and just heard from my agent that a fellow stablemate of mine has just signed a deal with a major for a book about... Crisps! Crisps, godsake. Anyway, we write because we have to. We must find ways to sustain our (wavering?) conviction that what we choose to write about needs to be read because we needed to read it, couldn't find it and so had to write it. That's got to be the 'so what?' that motivates me.
Totally. The satisfaction of finishing any creative work is fleeting, for sure -- but the desire for more, the curiosity of what has yet to be brought down from the ehters is my fuel.
I really related to this piece. Thank you. Could you please credit the illustrator for this post? Being an illustrator myself, I was really drawn (no pun intended) to the visual and would like to see more from that artist. Thanks
This is beautiful. It's so reassuring to read that we're all writhing and wrestling, sweating and stewing with our words, and with ourselves. Thank you for sharing 💫
This was fantastic to read. I've always felt that I always had something to write in me and never managed to get it out, and reading that I wasn't the only one wrestling with the attention-grabbers and wrestling with the idea of wrestling itself, this makes me feel a bit more at peace.. I'm attempting to publish twice a month over the course of this year, and reading this was really encouraging..
thank you for this, abigail! i love “you write because it is who you are. It is what you do. You write because you are obligated by your compulsion. You write because you care.”
it feels really true to me, especially as i’m in the messy middle of writing my first novel. the more i orient towards the process of writing - what’s in my control - versus the outcome that’s not in my control (publishing etc), the more i want to keep writing it, the more things flow, the more fun it feels.