Perhaps I was feeling a bit contra-suggestive. In our fiction workshop last week we were given an unusually straightforward writing exercise to ease us into the New Year: Write about why you write. This is an age-old question which consumes all writers. Apparently. I’d never given it much thought myself and I certainly didn’t feel any compulsion to answer it last Tuesday when I had a short story floundering around my folder, looking for the nearest available scrap heap.
Unlike my classmates, it seemed. I watched as pens zoomed across page after page, drenching them with as much ink as the time would allow. The room vibrated with a sort of demented passion to give voice to the reason why writers write.
It didn’t infect me, however. I still hadn’t a clue. In the end, I put my head down and wrote about something else instead, hoping our lecturer wouldn’t ask us to read out our pieces when we were finished. (She didn’t.)
As sometimes happens, an answer suggested itself to me when I needed it least, sometime around 03:15 the following morning. It struck me as not being entirely coincidental that I took up writing in early middle age when my children were, well, if not quite reared, then at least old enough to fill in a CAO form, convert to vegetarianism and locate the ON button on the dishwasher. Maybe I decided I wasn’t quite done with baby making.
First Drafts – they’re as exciting as newborn babies, beautiful, unique, bursting with potential. You hover over them as they lie in their cots, you watch their every breath, convinced that soon they will fly and dazzle the world with their brilliance.
What you don’t bargain for is that as you nurture your darlings, they’re becoming changelings. One day you wake up to discover that your precious newborns have metamorphosed into disgruntled toddlers. All of a sudden you are beset by these waddling strangers with their tear-stained faces and mucky clothes, pulling at your skirts, howling for attention, tripping up and refusing to be put to bed. And no matter how often you wash their clothes and faces and nurse their, they still come back grubby and cranky, waking you in the night with their impossible demands.
You look at all the other parents in your writing class with their impeccably behaved offspring who seem to have glided through toddlerhood and adolescence, ready to be sent forth into the world, and you wonder will you ever get yours to grow up and leave home. But they are yours, these mewling, cantankerous urchins. You created them and now you’ve got to stick with them, keep picking them up and nursing them, hoping that something will become of them because right now they’re all you’ve got.