Why you write

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Hello, and welcome to this year's writing workshop.

Before we start with the official programme and a few warm-up exercises, I think it's important that we very briefly talk about some of the absolute basics, things that need to be clarified before we can start writing anything. The first, and most important of these basics is to know why you write, because there exist a lot of misconceptions about this.

Let me be very blunt about this.

You should not write fiction or poetry because you want to explain something. Seriously, if you feel that you have a mission to explain things to other people, become a teacher, but for heaven's sake don't write a novel.

Second, don't write about your life. While I acknowledge that it has probably been an interesting life for you, other people will disagree. The point is that unless you were abducted by Bedouins and held captive for several years or had sometbing similarly gruesome and dramatic happen to you, nobody wants to read your story.

Besides, if your life is all that you can think of as the plot for a novel, this means you'll never be able to write a second or third novel after that or, even worse, that your writing will be tediously repetitive. So I'm afraid your life is not an option for a plot.

Especially not if you think it's a f'd up life. Let's be clear about this: if you're really f'd up, you're in no position to write anything; all that will come out is a garbled mess. No writer who ever produced something intelligent was really f'd up. No matter what their circumstances were, they were always clear-headed enough to produce intelligible texts, so don't believe that bohemian bullsh*t for a second.

Also, if you feel that you are suffering, then it may not be a good time to write fiction. There are two kinds of writing that have nothing to do with one another: the first is writing as catharsis or psychohygiene, whereas the second is writing texts that other people will want to read. Believe me: you do not want others to read the end product of a psychohygiene session, and if you don't believe that, then let me at least assure you that nobody else wants to read it anyway. You can of course write fiction and poetry about all sorts of feelings, including those you've had, but you want to do it after you've properly dealt with them.

And finally, when writing, don't try to be clever, and don't write to impress somebody, neither yourself nor others. The point is: you either are clever or you aren't. You can write good texts either way, but if you're trying to be something that you're not, you'll fail. Authenticity is your most valuable asset, which is why it's really helpful to have an idea about who you are and what you want.

Thank you for your attention.

4 Comments

You've made it clear that you are talking about fiction, and not writing in general, because certainly people who are good at explaining things might be very good at writing textbooks, or journal articles - certainly we in dire need of some better textbooks in the US. You are apparently limiting your writing workshop to fiction writing?

I wonder if you are more influenced by your personal writing history or by your work involving at least cursory lecture of countless books ;-)

Btw, only today was I intrigued by the insight that after Mr. Singh, your blog has turned into a most readable one. Don't get me wrong, I enjoyed most of your blogwriting, but there was just not that much of it, lately. Now, you keep writing what I, with my little experience as a blog reader would describe as a fairly regular blog with entries of good quality. I truly hope that you can keep up the standard.

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