“I’m near a giant pile of wool. Near the singing lift.” I’m meeting someone in the Royal Festival Hall, trying to explain, on the ‘phone, where I am.
“Are you near the weird people?”
I look around. “Um…”
“Those weird wooden figures?”
“No”, I say. “I didn’t see any wooden people. I’m by the windows.”
Eventually, she finds the singing lift and the giant pile of wool and joins me.
Later, we notice a crowd start to form outside the building opposite. They are queuing for the two enormous helter-skelter-y slides that have appeared outside the Hayward Gallery. I nip off to the loo and am informed of the news on my return: the slides are not working; people are getting stuck. We are mesmerised by the sight of the staff trying out the slides. Each is instructed at the top by a woman with a severe bun atop her head and a walkie-talkie in her hand. Each starts well enough, but slows down at the third curve and after slowly inching down to the bottom, is forced to shuffle their way out on their bum. We watch the repeated indignities, silently hoping someone gets stuck, just to see what would happen. Our attention is drawn to the right of the slides, on another of the Southbank Centre’s myriad levels, where a group of people wander aimlessly with arms out, perilously close to the edge. They are wearing what appears to be virtual reality masks. They mill around like zombie robots.
We try to work, but it is difficult with giant slides and zombie robots to distract us. But we manage, because this is London.
The people continue to fall slowly down the slide and, at the time of writing, no zombie robots have fallen off the edge.
Drawing by Amy Pennington
I’m sitting in my spare room, or “Writing Room” as it is sometimes known to me (depending on how active I am and how much washing is drying in here). I’m at a rosewood table and in front of me, a little to the left, is a window with a view of the City – I can see St. Paul’s, Guy’s Hospital, The Shard, The Gherkin, Canary Wharf in the distance. There are trees immediately outside, yellowing with autumn, some already undressed for winter. It is grey, misty, quiet.
You may not know it, but I have been talking to you for over an hour now. Like a lover getting ready to greet her beau, I have been practising what I am going to say over and over in my mind. While I ate breakfast, while I lay in the bath, while I dried myself off and put cream on my face, I was, in my head, already writing, composing what I was going to say to you. And like a lover, I felt that excitement in my skin as I dressed and made tea and got my laptop out and unwound the battery cable and plugged in and switched on and shut the door.
Then, the blank page.
And now here we are, you and me. You may be reading this minutes, days, weeks, years from now. You may be reading it from anywhere in the world. I don’t know you. But you know that right now at 11:49am on Wednesday 20th November 2013, I am typing this on a white laptop from my spare room at a rosewood table. That’s pretty amazing, isn’t it?
And you know what? None of what you just read is what I wrote earlier in my head. It’s all very well thinking up ideas, but if you don’t get it out on the page, it’s just going to wither and die. That brilliant line, that awesome story, that piece of beauty sculpted from words will never see the light.
And yet. Sometimes I don’t write. I have realised it is a cruelty to myself, a punishment, of sorts. And that giving myself permission to write is a kindness. It’s always better to be kind. In no particular order, here’s just some of the reasons why I write:
- If I don’t empty these thoughts in my head onto the page I will explode and make a mess all over the ceiling
- I have to get this bile out of me because if I don’t it will eat at me like acid
- I’m so happy
- I’m desperate
- Something hilarious has just happened
- Something important just occurred to me
- I need to make sense of something
- I don’t understand
- I have to capture the beauty
- There is a picture in my head
- I want to know what happens next
- These characters are waiting for me to give them something to do
- These characters are doing something unexpected
- I have a deadline
- People are paying to hear me tell a story, so I better bloody well write it
- I want to win that competition
- I just remembered something interesting
- I feel I should
- I feel guilty
- I feel creative
- Some words just popped into my head
- I wonder what woud happen if…
- I have something to say
- This story needs to be told
- To communicate
- To help others understand
- Because I can
- To express what my characters can’t
- To express what I can’t
- I JUST HAVE TO
(Incidentally, that view of the City I mentioned? Completely obscured in fog now. The wind is up and raging outside, leaves flying quick past my window, the door banging, trees threatening to snap. I just had to tell you that. Nothing like a bit of apocalyptic weather to inspre a story…)
So. Why do you write? Come on, I want to know. And just as importantly, why don’t you? What stops you?