There is a great post on Brain Pickings about “The Six Motives of Creativity” by Mary Gaitskill. (Perhaps because I’m a Brit, or more likely because I don’t read enough, I didn’t know who she was but now I do.) I always find it worth reading on the reasons writers write and this is a very eloquent set of reasons. My favourite quote is this:
“Stories mimic life like certain insects mimic leaves and twigs. Stories are about all the things that might’ve, could’ve, or would’ve happened, encrowded around and giving density and shape to undeniable physical events and phenomena. They are the rich, unseen underlayer of the most ordinary moments.”
It’s hinting at a magical element – a conjuring of an alternate reality, the creation of characters and scenes that seem so real it’s hard to believe they have never existed.
Whilst I don’t feel an affinity with some of Mary Gaitskill’s motives, this gets to the heart of one of my joys in writing. I have lived with my characters for so long, they are old friends. When I went to visit some of the settings in my novel, I somehow expected them to show up and felt a small, irrational sadness when they didn’t. Some of my characters are spun out from a memory of people I once briefly knew – people perhaps I wish I still knew because I liked them. I never really got to know them – have I created them to bring them back into my life? Perhaps. I certainly based my novel in places I wanted to revisit (and by doing so, ensured that I did!)
This also links with a sense of responsibility that I feel in writing. I am in no way suggesting anyone else should feel this – what a boring world it would be if they did – but I don’t want to conjure up negative situations or energy in my writing. I think there is plenty of this being done elsewhere, and done so well it transmutes into a positive force. I just don’t want to spend my writing time in a headspace of bad things and bad people. There is a huge amount of escapism in my writing.
Whatever stage of writing you find yourself, I do believe it is worthwhile step aside and reconsider your reasons for doing it. I struggle a bit with feeling intimidated by some of Mary Gaitskill’s but luckily the world is full of a wide spectrum of readers and writers!