Many things bemuse me, but nothing bemuses me more than those who met my younger self and found him so likeable that they remained his friend long enough to meet the man he is today. Having known the boy so well, I find it hard not to think he was deserving of at least some of the scorn he reserved for himself.
However, for all his many faults that I struggle to forgive, I must lend him credit where it’s due. He had an unshakeable belief in his own writing abilities. As much as he loathed who he was, he was utterly in love with what he could do.
In life, he was quiet and terminally gloomy. On the page, however, he was confrontational and confident. At the time, his chosen form was hip-hop lyrics, emulating the rappers he often had on loop. And like his (ill-chosen) heroes, he could brag about his verbosity in one song and then be thoughtfully introspective in the next. He could shine a light on the darkest corners of his mind, and that perpetually nervous child got to be a tragic romantic figure.
Many who read his songs said they were good, but they wanted to hear them. Only he couldn’t perform very well. His voice could not match the confidence of his pen. There was no joy in the performance, either. This wasn’t the right path for my younger self.
His inability to perform his own lyrics didn’t hold him back, though. Blissful denial played some part in this. A greater part, however, was played by his best friend at the time.
Whenever he finished typing up a song, he printed it out on cream-coloured paper and folded it to fit inside the pocket of his school blazer. Then, the following school day was spent eagerly waiting for it to end. Once the final bell rang, he and his best friend would meet under the willow tree beside the school gates. There, he would share with her his newest verses. At the time, her enthusiasm for his words was all he had needed to feel content in his craft.
Back then, his talent was about the only thing he truly believed in. Perhaps if life had been less miserable, he wouldn’t have bothered trying his hand at writing at all. He might have stuck to filling his hours with video games and television.
When did that young writer lose his stubborn belief in his abilities and become the ever-doubting perfectionist that is me?
In 2018, I studied an MA in Playwriting. For my dissertation, I needed to write a feature-length play that tied in with a research question. Normally, I am so full of ideas that I don’t write anything because I can’t settle on one. But this time, I had no ideas at all.
My supervisor tried to help me find the source of my creativity. So, she asked me, “Why do you write?”
When I tell someone I’m a writer, they always ask what it is I write. No-one has ever asked why. So, when my supervisor asked me this question, I couldn’t give her a definitive answer.
Writing is hard, as any writer will tell you. Translating thoughts and images in your head into gripping prose can be a slow, agonising ordeal. Even when you have drafted something, the editing process demands you to abandon your delusions of genius so that you might hack away at your darling creation. And let us not discuss the terror of letting someone read your work.
Quitting is an ever-present temptation for some of us. But no matter how strong the temptation, we resist it.
But why bother resisting it? There are less painful things we can do with our time. And it’s not like most of us can ever hope to make any decent money from our craft. Most of us have just committed to giving ourselves homework for the rest of our lives. Didn’t we hate homework enough as children?
I have a whole different essay in mind to explore the beauty of writing and why it’s so wonderful. But for this piece, I’m more concerned with that question of why I write.
Yes, I do it because it’s fun. But fun alone is no reason to keep writing. There are plenty of other things I find fun that I choose to neglect in favour of writing.
The answer I gave my supervisor was a load of waffle. But in simple terms, what I said was, “To be understood.” But this wasn’t the right answer.
I’ve written hip-hop lyrics, poems, plays, short stories, fragments of novels, a screenplay for a short film, radio scripts, essays, blog posts, magazine articles, ad copy, social media captions and a newsletter. Not every form has brought me joy, but none have stood out as the one form to rule them all. Clearly, my “why” is unconnected to style.
When I think about why I bother to write, there are five moments that come to mind…
One. On my first blog, my content was even less focused than it is now. But the two best performing posts were stories about time I spent with friends. The first was a night out in Canterbury spun into a narrative. The second, however, was a retelling of a camping trip. On the second day of said trip, my friends and I made our own Hunger Games. We hunted each other through Epping Forest, equipped with frisbees and Nerf guns. This became “The Blunder Games” on my tiny blog. Rarely did my posts receive more than 30 views at best. But the Blunder Games was viewed over 200 times.
Two. In 2016, my very first short play was performed on the Lakeside Theatre main stage. The tragedy of a man who fell in love with his sexbot was met with more laughs than expected. But accidentally writing a comedy was not what changed my life. It was the people, several of whom didn’t even know me, who came to tell me how much they loved it. The unsolicited praise filled me with a new confidence, one akin to the confidence my younger self once had.
Three. Last year, I was the winner of the Essex Book Festival’s Green Shoots Writing Competition. My flash-fic told from the perspective of a virus preserved in the permafrost had unanimously wowed the judges, or so I was informed over the phone when I learnt the news. The happiness I felt was a special kind of joy I have yet to find anywhere else.
Four. On my 25th birthday, I wrote a poem titled “Birthday Blues”. Of the poems I’ve shared publicly in recent years, I still consider it one of my best. And a good friend of mine told me it moved her to tears.
Five. For her birthday this year, I wrote my friend Ellie a short story inspired by an in-joke. Accompanying the story was a letter, and I had also typed up a journal entry I’d written about her. She said the story made her laugh, the letter made her smile, and the journal entry made her cry.
So why do I bother writing? It’s more than just being understood. It’s my way of connecting with others.
Writing is how I learn. It’s how I work out what I think. It’s how I process the world around me and relay that worldview back to others. It’s how I express pain, sadness, and anger. It’s also how I show gratitude and illustrate my love for a person. Through my writing, I’ve passed on valuable knowledge, moved people I hold dear to happy tears and entertained friends. By continuing to write, I hold onto hope for better things to come.
Above all, I write because it’s the only way I know how to give back.
Looking back at my younger self, for all his ignorance and stubborn self-loathing, I think he knew the value of his writing. Even when the quality of his words was lacking, he was wholly convinced of the power his words wielded. Maturing did wonders for him in many respects, but along the way he lost sight of why he bothered writing at all.
When asked why I wrote, I realised I’d lost that confidence. And since then, I’ve floundered. I’ve started more projects than I could hope to finish. I’ve downplayed my abilities because my faith in my craft had wavered. And I’ve squandered my time and talents on writing projects that were far removed from the stories I most wanted to tell.
Only now, having reflected on the moments I’ve felt the most pride in my writing, have I rediscovered what I had misplaced.
For too long now, I’ve focused all my energy on feeding the content mill with blog posts and newsletters. The longer, more meaningful projects that content was meant to supplement have suffered for it.
Why am I bothering to make content, when what I really want to do is tell stories?
My younger self once said his ambition was to move someone to tears with one of his songs. Whilst he never accomplished it with a song, he succeeded with poetry. But crucially, he wanted to make an emotional connection with people, not make it a career.
Today, and every day henceforth, it is my goal to rekindle that passion my younger self had to connect with people. This time through stories.