“I will commence my journey unencumbered with either the weight of unnecessary knowledge or the handicap of meaningless experience”.
I’m not sure where this quote came from – it was forwarded to me by an old co-worker and she wasn’t sure where it originated either – so I could just say it is mine. Some of you might humour me enough to let me think that you think I could come up with a quote this wonderful and true. And even if you don’t believe that I may actually be profound enough to unleash such a gem on you, I will unleash some random thoughts about it.
I already know this will become one of my favourite quotes but if I allow myself a second or two to think about it, to really dig under the words and look for the substance, can I truly believe that this quote has anything to do with writing at all? First and foremost, I want to call myself a writer. To be a writer, I must behave like a writer. The first step in behaving like a writer is to get a little boathouse off the Welsh coast and drink yourself silly. The second step is to call yourself a writer. The third step is suck it up and submit your heart and soul without the fear of flinging yourself from the nearest bridge when some editor or publisher or agent (maybe even your 13 year old neighbour if you are really sensitive) tells you it is crap.
Am I to believe that I write without the weight of unnecessary knowledge or the handicap of meaningless experience? Surely this quote makes a mockery of all I tend to believe about my writing process and the general writing process overall? But am I smart enough to believe that I am not as encumbered as I think I am every time I put fingers to keyboard and rip apart my innards searching for that one paragraph, one sentence, one phrase, or even one word that I will proudly display among all others?
I write because I have to. I write because I feel like I’ve wasted my day if I haven’t managed to write. I write because I want everyone to know just how awful the drivers in Saudi Arabia or Dubai are or how the purple lace on her thong blended in superbly with the tattoo of the butterfly on her lower back. I observe, I take in, I write. That is the process for much of what you read on my site. I can only assume it is the basis for most of what I read on your sites.
And therein lies the basis of my argument against the quote holding water against writing. Most of my writing is observational. I pick up things I see, hear, and even do and I transform them into something that not only I would find interesting, but something somebody else might actually care to read. My experiences shape my writing. I wrote a 50,000-word tongue-in-cheek dating advice book for men that is solely based on personal experience, observation, and a few nuggets of learned knowledge.
I remember what it is like to be a child relying on my imagination to take me to places that never existed or I’d never get to. This experience helped me form a better understanding of the central character in the children’s novel I have finished. My knowledge of what an evil-looking Welsh museum curator would look like was the basis of the bad guy in the same novel. I think I know what scares kids; I was one. Some things don’t change.
I am burdened with all this knowledge and all this experience and I sit in front of my keyboard, or if I’m feeling sentimental – a notepad and pen, and journey down a road I know will lead me to a finished product. See, it’s that simple isn’t it?
Bullshit Geraint, I hear you yelling. It is not that simple come the calls from all around me. Of course it isn’t that simple. I have seen many things, done many more, have heard about stuff that would make for a great novel if I could ever find a way to write about it in my own unique way; but that means jackshit when it comes to being a writer. Yes, we are told to write what we know, and most of us do, myself included, but that still doesn’t prepare us for what lies ahead of us.
With the risk of sounding terribly cliché and unoriginal, writing is exactly like life. It is a journey that most of us make by ourselves and are sometimes joined by people we know and love and respect. We know where we are going. We know, generally, the outcome that awaits us. In life, we’re born, we grow up, we have sex, we grow old, we die. It is that simple. We know we are going to die; how we will die is the mystery. We know what will happen, will probably see many instances of it before we get there. And does this experience lend itself valuable when our time comes? No. How can it? We may have seen death, but we’ve never been prone on a bed, tubes sticking out of every orifice we have and some that have been made for the purpose of tubing, hoping the machines that keep our heart and brain functioning don’t decide to give out.
And it is the same with our writing. We may know how the story is going to end, we may have ended several stories before, but no two are alike. Our previous perversions with this craft we call writing will make us more daring, hopefully more talented, but it doesn’t make us any more aware of what is going to happen to any of our characters along the journey of the story. My knowledge of grammar may help me avoid the dangling modifiers and run-on sentences; but will it actually help me defeat the dragon sitting on a hoard of gold and jewels? Of course it won’t. It might help me find a more creative way to do it (written with such a panache that people will be drawn to it), but ultimately, each word I choose to forge on that page will be a new experience devoid of any of the history of the words before it.
Maybe I do start this journey unencumbered. Maybe it is best that we each forge ahead, creating and describing, without the glimmer of hope that knowledge and experience gives us. Maybe this is the only way to forget the misery of that incomplete story on your desktop. Maybe this is the only way to exercise the demons that pierce you every time you see the dust covered manuscript on the top shelf of your closet. Be a writer. But be a writer with little regard to what you have done in the past. Your previous words will shape you; but they won’t be able to see you through your next project. Go blindly, and do so with the knowledge that this experience will be rewarding in one way or another. Just don’t expect it to matter the next time you sit down and write.
I must embark on another new journey now. Thanks for reading.