Thursday, November 15, 2012

The Writing Imperative: Vocation or Necessity?

Is writing a deliberately chosen and adopted vocation, worn and discarded like an article of clothing, or instead does literary composition not choose us so much as it consumes us? Is it a desire or a necessity? Or, like many things, is it something more nebulous that cannot be neatly defined in one category or another? Something more complicated. The writing imperative morphs to each particular host, and is manifested in equally disparate ways. Every wordsmith has a unique relationship to their own persistent muse, and attends to her hue and cry in a distinctly individual fashion.

I think I was born with prose inside me; words etched on the whiteness of bone, on the gentle curve of polished rib, tiny punctilious script hidden in the stretch of muscle and tendon, words careering in a slippery cascade alongside the globules of haemoglobin-rich blood. As well as delivering oxygen to essential organs, it also delivers the words to the tongue, or to the keyboard-nimble fingers that fly and flutter across the keys. And this supply of prose is equally necessary to the health and well-being of my mental self as the delivery of oxygen is to my physical self.  While amino acids provide the building blocks of proteins, critical for physical functioning, words represent the individual components required for the construction of an equally compelling narrative.

As in my previous musing, my thoughts dwell on anatomy: the complexities of neural stimulation that accompanies the writing process, and now on the very source of the urge itself. Where else is there to look but into the depths of ourselves? One ponders on the age-long ruminations of the seat of the soul, the ghost in the machine; Descartes dualism and the mind-body problem to which it gave rise. Are mental perambulations the product of synaptic firing and neural connective pathways? Are we indeed the chemical and electrical sum of our parts? And if so (an explanation to which I personally tend) what is the molecular differentiation that proclaims us writers? Not just an inclination towards a thing: for many of us writing is not a casual dabble but a feverish compulsion. A visceral volcanic necessity. Many literary composers start in their very early youth, compiling diaries, scribbling short stories - in short acquiring the habit of making sense of their world through the expression of words. Is there not a comfort in that? For to write it is to, in some way, define it, label it, share it, and ultimately understand it.

Sallust, the Roman historian and writer of 60BCE, alleged: 'necessity makes even the timid brave.' And writers are among the bravest individuals I know - to work painstakingly, laboring for years through the self-doubt and criticism, to remain undaunted in face of increasingly formidable publishing odds, to produce at the end of it all: a stack of paper. A manuscript that pulses with a heartbeat of its own, a distillation of life, an intense physical manifestation of thought. To the ultimate end of publication of one kind or another, where it is surveyed by critical eyes, doubtless assessed by many and found deficient, hopefully inspiring and touching a few.  A necessity borne of blood and bone, the novel for the writer, is expelled as a hard-flung thing. It is of us, but it is also for us, a step along the way in our ever forward progression to further comprehend ourselves and our world.

6 comments:

  1. Thoroughly enjoyed - LOVE your lyrical writing style PJ! Thanks for a wonderful post!!

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    1. Thanks Sarah - so pleased you enjoyed it!

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  2. PJ, This is such an interesting post. I had never imagined it that way before, but in reflection it gave thought to my feelings. Thank you for sharing and educating in the process.

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    1. Gratitude Blackhorse - it is so lovely to 'see' you again - thank you so much for visiting, and thrilled that the post was of interest.

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  3. You are right, PJ. Writing a novel is like giving birth in many ways.

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    1. Yes the seemingly interminable labor and then the fruition of it all and the anxiety regarding its reception! :) Thank you for your contribution Shari, and for visiting! All the best, PJ

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