In the last two years I have written two complete novels. And edited them. If they ever get published, I’ll let you know, but for now I have not written them in order to publish them. I have written them because I had to.
There are an infinite number of recommendations on the Internet of what makes a writer a writer. Personally, I’ve always been of the opinion that if you write, you’re a writer. But many people will say that you are a writer if you are compelled to write. If you cannot stop yourself, or know a moment’s peace, unless you put words to paper. Whatever the definition of a writer is, I am compelled. My mind is not quiet once it’s got ahold of an idea. It must make that idea reality. It must create a world on paper. It must form a character and give them words. So I am compelled.
In the old days (i.e. a decade ago) that compulsion could usually be quieted by writing a short fan fiction. These days, that compulsion can’t be quieted until an entire novel is on my hard drive. Perhaps that’s a comment on a developing art form or simply that, after a PhD, my mind needs more than a thousand words to sort itself out.
Writing is for me equal parts therapy and equal parts pleasure. Therapy is often painful, and writing is no less than that. It makes me realise things about myself I didn’t already know. And it helps me work through issues I’m having, by giving characters those same problems and letting them come up with solutions. Sometimes, those solutions work, and sometimes they don’t. But every single word I write, helps me in some way.
Writing a novel helped me through the last two months of my PhD. I’m not certain I would have mentally survived those two months if not for the novel, and playing in a world so very different from my thesis (which dealt with digital technologies, and the novel had no technology in it). It was a place for my mind to go that wasn’t filled with stress or worry or editing nightmares. It was a place of peace and calm, creating a new world where things worked the way I wanted them to work. Where I was in charge and could decide what happened. I felt very out of control in those last months of my thesis, and the novel helped me regain some of that lost control. Or at least to feel like I had.
Writing has always been my escape, which is possibly why I can’t do it for a living, because then I’d be ‘escaping’ all the time. But it is something I need. For me, it’s a necessity of life, just like any on Maslow’s hierarchy. I need it like I need air, just not quite as often. A good thing too, or I’d never get anything else done.