It’s complicated

June 18, 2014 § 4 Comments

I was scrabbling around for a topic for today’s blog earlier, and my friend Cath suggested I try to answer a question she’d been asked: “Why do you write?” It’s a question I’m asked fairly often, and I’m never quite sure how to answer. Because mostly, it’s complicated.

I’m supposed to be in television journalism or production – that’s the stream I chose during my journalism degree. I didn’t see myself as much of a writer, to be honest. So I learnt how to zoom, track and pan a camera, switch between cameras on a vision mixing board, and edit pictures and sound.

I ended up writing quite by accident – the only job I could get vaguely in the television world was at a trade publication for the TV and film industries. And here I am today, several steps later, a freelance journalist who writes about health. It’s a funny old thing, life.

But it’s a complicated question to answer because I do so many kinds of writing, so I thought it’d be fun (for me, anyway) to look at the four main kinds of writing I do, and explore each one. If you read any further than this, I’ll be impressed. I’ll also keep it short for you two, dear readers…

1. Health journalism: I love health journalism because I love the challenge of taking complicated medical and health science information and making them accessible – yet accurate – for readers. The thing is, there’s a lot of misinformation out there when it comes to health. A lot of fads, a lot of unadulterated crap. So I see my role as that of questioner on your behalf. I ask the difficult questions, get second and third and fourth opinions where required, and always, always ask for evidence to back up the claims people make. I come across as evangelical, crusading sometimes, but I’m okay with that. It’s my job.

2. Blogging: This here weekly ‘column’ I inflict on all of you is purely self-indulgent; my challenge to myself to produce a piece of non-work-related writing once a week. I’m having fun with it, because it’s one hundred percent my space. And no-one is more surprised than I am when anyone reads it. So, thanks, if you’re one of the people who reads my meanderings – you amaze me on a weekly basis.

3. Fiction: Yes, like all those writers who think they have a novel inside of them, I’ve recently completed one. The thing is, I didn’t think I had one in me and then I went on a creative writing course and discovered I could write small scenes quite well. And then I realised that a novel was no more than a string of scenes, so if I just wrote one scene at a time…

A couple of years and 86 000 words later, it is currently doing the slush pile sashay. We’ll see if any publishers bite: you can be sure I’ll let you know with the appropriate fanfare if they do. But let me say this – it is by far the hardest form of writing I have ever done. I’ve published a non-fiction book, ghostwritten another and I can churn out a magazine feature in record time, but fiction is really, really difficult, and yet, utterly addictive.

4. Songwriting: If I could pick one form of writing to do all day, every day, this would be it. Nothing gives me more joy than finishing a song I’m happy with. Music is my healer, and I love the challenge of writing beautiful lyrics that match a melody, that rhyme and scan without seeming contrived, underpinned by music that rises and falls in just the right way, at just the right time. It’s so constrained, yet so creative. Songwriting is the writing my heart does. It fills me up like nothing else.

But if I had to give a general answer, I suppose it would be this: I just love words. I love the way you can bend them to your will, expand, contract and manipulate them till they sing – literally sometimes. I love the way they roll off my tongue and onto the page. I love the mini-mazes they make on a page if you blur your eyes and look for the white spaces between them. I love how you can give a bunch of different writers the same language, and the same topic and each will produce something completely different. I love their weight, their lightness, their darkness and shade.

Mostly, I love the way they are the yarn that knits our stories together. And what are we, if not the sum of our stories? The art – and the joy, for me – is in telling them well.

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