Why I Write

[Here is my take on this week’s Finding Everyday Inspiration https://dailypost.wordpress.com/blogging-university/writing-everyday-inspiration/ prompt on the subject of “Why I Write” ]


The simplest answer to this question is that I write because, as a translator, at least, I am paid to do so.

However, there are always deeper psychological reasons underpinning a given individual’s choice of profession and no simple economic incentive can explain why I write poetry or why I started this blog, with the very specific self-imposed remit of exploring the interfaces between creative writing, politics and language.

I have had a special relationship with writing for as long as I can remember. From an early age I was always interested in writing my own stuff rather than just reading other people’s writing in books.

Also from an early age, my psychological relation to writing became a way of compensating for my inability to communicate effectively in the spoken language or establish effective social relations with other human beings in this way. For various reasons–some relating to my working-class background, others to neurodiversity–I have always felt that I can ‘be myself’ in writing, whereas, in conversation, I am uncomfortable in my own skin. My experience of teaching writing skills to English language students has taught me that this is the opposite of what most people feel.

Nevertheless, reading so many students’ writing assignments has also suggested to me that writing provides an X-ray or MRI (to use a medical analogy) of a person’s soul, in a way that speaking and conversational skills, which can be and often are employed deceitfully, are not. Writing, therefore, is, in my view, necessarily a way both of being more honest about oneself and of reaching out to others in a more egalitarian manner.

In the early 2000s, I devised a workshop activity based on Tristan Tzara’s How to Write a Dadaist Poem. The activity is specifically designed to minimize discrimination on the basis of class or even literacy. Participants need to have a minimal ability to read but do not require any aptitude for writing, since the activity involves drawing words and phrases randomly from a bag and then ordering them as the participant sees fit.

I have since conducted this activity with many different groups of individuals and the same pattern always emerges. Supposedly poorly educated people perform extremely well on the task and even produce work that feted literary critics are incapable of distinguishing from the work of ‘real’ professional poets. On the other hand, on occasions when I have applied the same exercise to professors of literature, they invariably prove themselves incapable of producing anything of interest and, in some instances, simply give up on the task, declaring it ‘stupid’ or ‘impossible’.

This is a very sharp contrast that inverts our pre-conceived expectations in a shocking way.

In the late 1960s, the French philosopher Jacques Derrida wrote a book in which he argued that writing primordially antecedes speaking but that this ‘natural’ order of things has been systematically inverted by a long philosophical and political tradition whose sole aim is to oppress the ‘other’—women, those perceived to be of a lower class, foreigners and other outsiders, with whom it is impossible to have an egalitarian relationship except through the necessarily humbling mediation of writing.

This, above all else, is why I persist in writing often over-extensive prose and poetry and never reducing my writing to easy-to-apprehend sound-bites or tweets, and it is why I continue to encourage others to do likewise.

Writing for me is a liberating revolutionary act.


4 thoughts on “Why I Write

  1. It’s so interesting to read you reasons for writing! They are anything but superficial. Actually, the thought that I write because I’m paid for me also crossed my mind but it didn’t make it to my shortlist. (I also translate and do occasional copywriting.) What resonates with me is also the idea that writing replaces conversation when one isn’t much of a people’s person.

  2. I have always felt inept at expressing myself through talking. A lifelong journaler and reader, I’ve suspected that I write in order to find out what I think. An internal dialogue. Never have been a people person; however, I found that I did okay when my job was working with people on their projects. Framework!

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