Monday, December 06, 2004

Why write?

I often wonder: why write? Why write when you can watch a movie or eat a gourmet dish or have sex or work overtime and earn more money? Why write if the written piece might not be read by even one person, other than your wife (if you are not divorced yet)?

What is it about writing that attracts us?

Writing is hard work, to me at least. Many people say: I love writing. The hyper prolific Stephen King is one of them. I say that too. Maybe it is about the whole process, this professed love for writing. But it is hard work. I have Maugham on my side. And end of the day, it seems all so irrelevant to the world outside. How does it matter what I write to the hooker who waits for her client at the cafe outside my house? How does it matter to a bunch of waiters who live in the apartment next to mine? My colleagues don't even know about it, and they couldn't care less.

So what?

My writing is, so it seems, as important to others as my taking a crap.

If you turn to Naipaul for help on this, he is of no use. He wanted to become a writer, ever since he could remember. But why? He doesn't know.

I saw a little book in Kinokuniya recently. It was pertly titled, So many books or So much to read (something like that). It was written by some Latin American writer (I had never heard of him, not that I am an authority on Latin American writers). The small sized book, slim enough to be carried in palms by the less-stout and weak-elbowed, seemed awfully tired of all the books in the world. I love slim books. They look so readable- betraying my prefernce for the slim than the fat (Don't rush to call me demented and hit me with a copy of The War and Peace). Anyway, the point that that book was making was that at the rate at which the species of (general book) readers is vanishing, the day is not far when there would be more writers than readers in the world.

Another point that cute little book made was that in these unfortunate times most people are writing (also reading) non-fiction. This is a fraud. These buggers (found on university faculty lists in profusion) are writing not to get readers but to "puff up" their CVs.

Anyway, I always suspected this. And you can't believe it, whenever I see a person lurking around the literature shelves of a bookstore, I immediately pigeonhole him/her as a wannabe writer.

If one wanted money, glamour and fame, one would be "better off working at the drive-through window at McDonalds!"

So how? Why write? Why bother?

The answer comes from Kurt Vonnegut, one of my the authors I have heard so much about that I am afraid to read his books. In his book, Timequake, Vonnegut describes his experience writing and teaching writing. To the question, “Why bother?” Vonnegut says:

“Here’s my answer: Many people need desperately to receive this message: ‘I feel and think much as you do, care about many of the things you care about, although most people don’t care about them. You are not alone.’”

So, there we are. We write because we want to say and feel that you are not alone, that we share the same stupidities and idiosyncracies.

Maybe. Maybe right. Maybe wrong. I still don't know.

In Richard Attenborough's (f...k the spelling) Shadowlands, Anthony Hopkins plays C S Lewis. Lewis roars in his Oxford university tutorials-"we read to know that we are not alone."

So, both the reader and writer is paid in the same coin. Both basically try to ease each other's lonliness, and in the process, the publisher laughs off to the bank.

I think the movies, video games, and even the belly dancers are doing a better job in this. No wonder Naipaul said: the novel is dead. he is right. The novel is dead. Long live the novel! And in case you did not notice, Naipaul's latest novel is Magic Seeds.

And yet, I stand where I was in the beginning, none the less wiser.

So how? Why do we write?

4 comments:

Prakup said...

We write because... to leave no history is to become extinct!

Prakup said...

We write because... to leave no history is to become extinct!

Zafar Anjum said...

Personally, yes, I can agree on that. But again, who is bothered? It is a vainglorious exercise. Might discuss this more in my next post. Thanks for your comments buddy.

Dizzy said...

although not many writers will subscribe to Sir Vidia's view that the novel is dying, writers of vernacular languages feel that the bhasha novel is dying. Writers feel that their work is read only by others like them ie. writers & critics.Only the English books get hyped, that too due to double shift work done by agents to advertise them.Surviving as a full time serious writer is unimaginable, specially for the Bhasha writers, of various other languages literary medium. The readership is small & fast disappearing. Only books translated in English survive.Although Translation does to some extent bridges the gap between the writer & the reader, Much is lost during the process which leaves the writer unsatisfied in the end.