“Writing, at its best, is a lonely life.”
– Ernest Hemingway
I will not pretend that I did not write this a thousand of times before I actually got around it. I am even struggling with this small note, pondering whether I should let it be or delete it once and for all. Little would it matter, after all, the reader would never know of its existence. But let us be true to ourselves, if we can. Whatever is meant to survive will survive. The rest will be history.
What brings me to write this is that after quite some time, I have finally acknowledged my need to write – be it something silly or something of certain gravitas. It is often that I find myself holding a pen. I weigh it in my hand, play with it for a while, nibble on it. It even touches the corner of the paper ever so slightly. Needless to say, the lined paper begs to be written on. It is too white, painfully white: it demands to be stained, to fulfil its purpose. The words have already formed in my head. Chances are that they have been forming in my mind for weeks. Then, as I am about to give in, I abruptly put the pen down.
This is a common interaction of chaotic intensity between myself and the piece of paper. It is often dimmed down by running downstairs to pour myself a glass of wine or make a cup of coffee. Wine in such moments of distress, if they can be called that, has proved to be a motivating friend of the most loyal kind. When it comes to coffee, it is to be had during that time of the day when drinking wine is not deemed to be socially acceptable. When I return upstairs, I look around my room, I pick up a book –almost mechanically– and start reading. Whether I am actually reading or whether I am passively taking words in is another matter. All that I can recall at the moment is that by the time I sit on the chair, the piece of paper on my desk is well forgotten.
That is not to say that I did not try to figure out as to why I turned to reading in such instances instead of indulging to writing. My initial response was that we need more readers and less writers (the irony as I am writing right now). My second response was that as an English Literature student, it would be best to read now and write later. More responses naturally occur over the course of time and most of them are, as it is to be expected, to my convenience. As I did not feel the need to write, I was, of course, content with them. Only a couple days ago did it occur to me that I should add another reason to my list: the issue of the representation of ideas. When reading, the interaction is limited between a contemplation of the self and the abstract presence of the writer, which is why reading is not only a habit of mine, but it could potentially serve as a safety blanket.
Then, I thought that if reading was indeed a safety blanket, the position of the reader must be easier to that of the writer’s, as the writer is exposing parts of himself/herself to a great audience. However, for the sake of reason, it would be worth arguing that the reader is also able to discover parts of themselves based on their readings. Thus, it would be more appropriate to say that being a reader is as difficult as being a writer, as both parties bear certain responsibilities towards the book, themselves, and their ideas.
There is an unending vicious circle of doing anything but writing. In fact, there are times when I do not feel like writing for months. That is not to say that my mind does not lust after it. I often catch myself contemplating as to why I am not writing – at times it is out of fear that I will not be able to do justice to all the ideas that may have sprouted on the margins of my mind, for I hardly think that such ideas are mine. Ideas come with a burden, a burden that one cannot easily get rid of. One needs to find their origin; that cannot only be tiresome, it can also be –arguably- tedious, for uncertainty always flourishes within.
It is inevitable to acknowledge the biasedness in one’s ideas, a product of the environment, further influences, dominant culture –though we are unable to acknowledge the extent of it- but there is not only a responsibility of finding the sources of our ideas but als’o, the effect they could potentially have on the reader. Ideas constantly swirl in my head: while being on a walk, in the middle of the lecture, while I am with friends and family, while I am among strangers under the influence of alcohol, just before falling asleep; I end up thinking about writing in the most inappropriate of places.
Those brief moments of wonder are when I grow confident and ambitious, childishly enough I think I can write – this must be one of these moments. Very rarely and most conveniently, I may happen to have my laptop or a piece of paper with me. For a couple of moments, everything makes sense. The first draft is filled with notions and sentiments that I was quite unable to capture under my fingertips but now flow freely through my brain as abstract ideas. Nothing may truly seem plausible and yet it appears to be seemingly reachable. During such precious moments, I feel like synapses are finally making connections in my head, new pathways are being created – all of the sudden, everything simply makes sense.
Those, however, are seldom moments. Such moments may also be illusory. The writer should be cautious, careful, aware of the responsibility towards the reader. Which normally brings a series of questions in my head: what of the reader’s responsibility towards the book?
“There is no such thing as a moral or an immoral book.Books are well written, or badly written. That is all.”
– Oscar Wilde
I am aware that at this point there is not one post where I have not mentioned Oscar Wilde but doing so is not without its purpose. Oscar Wilde, experiencing – and being part of — fin de siècle, confronting concepts as ennui, decadence, degeneration; concepts that are all too familiar in the 21st century. So, are we to agree with the idea that books are merely well or badly written?
I would say so. It is only then that responsibilities are capable of being shifted. It is no longer the author’s job to create a book that responds and aligns with the moralistic aspects of a culture, but rather make something beautiful of it. Then, the reading of the reader of a particular books says more about the reader than it says about the book.
That is not to say that a writer does not have responsibilities towards the reader. The writer is responsible of acknowledging the commonness of their own ideas: we all are slaves to language. However, out of that ‘commonness’ the writer is given the opportunity to expand such notions and deconstruct them, broadening the reader’s horizons. Binary oppositions are also so dreadfully hard to avoid. Binary oppositions are part of our inheritance of the philosophy of metaphysics. For Derrida, language is dogmatic because it is inescapably metaphysical. Debates about woman/man, writing/speech, bad/good are all too familiar to us because they have been around for so long. Thus, it is naturally easier to support our arguments through binary oppositions: to degrade something in order to elevate something else. To say that it is easier being a reader than it is being a writer is in itself a binary opposition.
If the ideas do not reach the reader efficiently, does that mean that the writer needs to exercise their rhetoric? What of the impact of influence it has on the reader, be it for better or for worse?
“There is no such thing as a good influence. Because to influence a person is to give him one’s own soul. He does not think his natural thoughts, or burn with his natural passions. His virtures are not real to him. His sins, if there are such thing as sins, are borrowed. He becomes an echo of someone else’s music, an actor of a part that has not been written for him.”
Notwithstanding all my failed attempts or my shivering every time I encounter something that I had written not long ago, I do return to writing for the most foolish of reasons. Every time I do so it is a different sort of experience, a different interaction. Nevertheless, except if I am writing for myself, I often have to think of the weight of words. Still, one can never be fully aware of how much their words weigh on the mind of the reader.
When I last wrote on Instagram about writing, I talked about how the urge to write never truly leaves you. It is merely awakened at the right moments when you are willing to put your thoughts into the right order, make sense of your world. Through that period, I have written a lot and I have read even more. I have never wondered whether something is worth reading but I have wondered a handful of times whether something is worth writing. One cannot possibly give guidelines to writing – that alone would limit writing in itself: it goes beyond that – there are just different perspectives.
It is those different perspectives that the writer should be willing to explore; writing does not merely have its troubles. It is, moreover, a source of relief.