Recently someone asked me how I find the motivation to keep writing. The answer is simple; I write because I must.
Writing is a compulsion. An addiction. A thirst. Without doubt it is the only thing stopping me going crazy.
The compulsion to write is like a knot in my chest.
I’m at the store, at the movies, in the shower - and it hits me. Usually sparked by an idea; a premise, a line of dialogue, an opening sentence.
Once the knot arrives it gets tighter and tighter until I sit down and let the words out.
Without that outlet, it’s impossible to function. Without that outlet I’m liable to become even more irritable, cranky and unproductive. Without it, I can’t process thoughts and emotions. I can’t stop the rage.
Without writing I would destroy myself.
In the words of Mark Ruffalo’s Dr Bruce Banner; “You wanna know the secret?"
I’m always writing.
More than 90% of my writing process happens internally. I never stop. When the knot arrives I start writing externally.
My most recent project was a short novel. I wrote it down in 19 days, all 50,000 words of it. I spat it out. I flooded the page with words.
I may have written the first draft proper in those three weeks, but I had been writing that manuscript for over 2 years. I just hadn’t been writing it down.
Sure I kept the odd note, for clarity. I filled a large whiteboard in my study with single word pointers. But for the most part I had been ruminating, digesting, editing, correcting and developing the story in my head before I even contemplated putting it on paper.
Here’s another secret; there is no such thing as a bad idea. There is only bad execution of that idea. Take my first manuscript for example; great concept, lousy story.
The battle is finding the right frame for the story. The right tone. The right characters. The battle is sticking with it. Adapting, changing, evolving. Some ideas arrive with the perfect story attached. Some ideas take a lot more work.
Some ideas will just never find the right execution.
No writer quits an idea. You never stop. You may not be writing it down, but you’re always writing it. Letting it gestate, waiting for the knot to arrive.
Most of the time you can tell a story isn’t working because the tap isn’t flowing properly. Sometimes you can’t tell a story isn’t working until you read it back.
Sometimes it takes other people reading it for you to realise you got it wrong.
But the doubts and the insecurities and the lack of belief and all those other symptoms of the creative mind - I usually fight those battles off the page.
If I don’t believe in an idea I don’t write it. If I lose faith in an idea it’s just because it hasn’t been developed enough yet. Back in the head it goes.
When it’s truly ready to be written, the compulsion will arrive and the story will write itself.
There is a wonderful Indian proverb that any of you who have seen The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel will recoginise warmly; ‘Everything will be alright in the end, if it’s not alright, it’s not the end.’
In my writing experience there is a similar notion;
"Every idea will make a great story when it’s ready. If it’s not a great story, then the idea is not ready.”
I started writing because I needed to. I’ll continue writing as long as I have that need. I can’t live without breathing, and I can’t live without writing. They are the same. As long as I’m still breathing, living, experiencing, loving, hating, fearing; I’ll be writing.
F. Scott Fitzgerald once said; 'You don’t write because you want to say something, you write because you have something to say.’
I write because I must. I write because I have something to say.