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Reality Writes -- Brief 1 -- Why write?


Why am I here? Why start again with another of these daily writing challenges?

Why write at all, Douglas?

In part I’m here because I’ve learned over the years that I need an external impetus to write. I need a structure, a framework, imposed upon me by an outside force that makes me write. Perhaps I mean I need to give myself permission.

That act of self-deception is important, it seems. By signing up to a university degree course or participating in play-writing, short story and (now) non-fiction challenges or enrolling in the competitive film and short story challenges of NYC Midnight (rather than more traditional, open-ended short fiction competitions) I accept a responsibility not to disappoint, let down or fail another person (who may be known or unknown to me).

I write more readily, more easily, more freely when I respond to a task or challenge set by someone who is not me or not sitting on my shoulder (or whom I may never have met); people like Dr Lucy Neave, my creative writing tutor at the Australian National University, or Sebastian Rex who I first encountered via the writing challenge “28 Plays Later” and who now runs that challenge and this one -- Reality Writes -- as a freelancer (rather than through the Space Theatre in East London).

John Knox. The Venerable.

There is something thoroughly male, Scottish and Presbyterian about that conundrum, don't you think? As if God (in whom I do not believe) or John Knox (about whom there can be no doubt) might come down from on high and speak sternly to me if I did anything I might enjoy. We are, after all, a long time dead. And sinners burn for all eternity. Or not, as the case may be.

I write (if the truth be known) because I feel compelled to write. I have always felt that way; always yearned to write well, purposefully and with imagination. I want to move people through my writing – non-fiction as well as fiction. But I have never let myself commit wholly to that enterprise. But now -- at five to midnight so to speak -- I think I'll try. Perverse or what?

And yet I do feel I am ‘meant’ to write. And that feels odd because I do not believe – I am not persuaded – that human beings are ‘meant’ to do anything. Of any sort. Not in any purposeful or pre-determined or ordained sense of the word.

We do not choose to be born. We live and die. Beyond that, it seems to me, nothing in our lives is 'meant'. We arrive in the circumstances, place and time of our birth. We do what we do and do not do other stuff. We act and are acted upon. Circumstances arise, opportunities exist which are created by each of us or others. They can elevate us or be denied or missed or not work out the way we thought they would.

We make choices. We succeed. We fail. We fuck up.

End of.

And yet I feel – deep down where none of us has any idea how we come to feel anything – I feel that I am 'meant' to write. How weird is that?

So I sit here. Writing.

As for Sebastian’s questions that define the first brief of this month-long challenge? Here goes.

What are my goals and intentions for this month?

To rise to the challenge. To write each day and submit a substantial response (in terms of worth if not necessarily word count) to the brief we are set.

I aim to be imaginative, open, honest – painfully honest if that’s what it takes to write well. I intend to create short(ish) essays that are worth reading and in which – I hope – I have something interesting (at least) to say; some point, comment or observation that an anonymous reader would want to read, may be moved by in some small way, reflect upon or respond to (for or against, yes or no; think, “yes, that’s true” or turn to say, “but on the other hand, Dougie” or “have you considered x, y, or z?”).

What am I hoping to achieve in the short term and in the long term?

To write every day in response to the brief. And to meet every deadline.

In the longer term I want to become a better writer, a more skilled writer, a braver, more honest and adventurous writer. I want to keep on writing after the challenge has finished. I want to learn this writing craft. And I want to become a published writer. That, of course, requires me to send out accomplished work; willing and ready to face the rejection I know I shall meet but be persistent enough, determined to keep going.

What do I hope to gain by participating in Reality Writes?

Liberation from my fears and uncertainties about my capacity to write, my worth as someone who writes. I choose to write and want to succeed in my own terms. That includes developing an ability to move anonymous others who read my words.

I want to improve my skills as a writer.

I want to know myself better.

Do my goals for participating have something / anything / nothing to do with writing?

Writing is fundamental to my purpose. As I noted earlier, I feel compelled to write. I am meant to write. I am – I think this is true – most alive, most who I am and what I’m for when I write. That mystifies me.

I also want to express myself, my thoughts, opinions and ideas. I believe I have something to say about (my) existence that is worthwhile, could be entertaining and may (even) be interesting or helpful or compelling for others. I’m not exactly sure – perhaps not even vaguely sure – what that is or what those ideas might be. The only way to find out is to write and by writing to explore more thoroughly what I think I’m looking for. With luck I may find answers that work for me (and maybe others) or – at least – discover and consider better questions.

Those are my goals for this externally-set writing challenge in October. Those are my answers to questions set by a man I’ve never met but whose commitment to encouraging others to write has become profoundly important to me. So far, in response to three previous challenges Sebastian has organised, I’ve written 56 short plays and 30 short stories. Some of them were terrible. But some were more than decent. I could have done more with them. I may yet do more.

The point though is -- to write. That’s my intention: to write with purpose every day and to keep on writing when October is done.

I write and that gives meaning to my life even if the idea that I am ‘meant’ to write is (certainly) egotistical and probably faintly ridiculous. But here’s the thing. No one cares if I am faintly ridiculous – “Almost, at times, the fool.”— as Eliot wrote and Prufrock said.

All of which makes me done for now. More or less.

At some point as I wrote, I decided I would write until one thousand words were down upon the page. And here I am. Challenge met. We’ll see what happens next. All I can tell you is that most responses will -- at least -- be shorter. I have one a day to write for the rest of the month. Even this egotistical fool has limits.

I write. That’s all I need to know -- and do -- for now.

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