I’ve just finished reading Margaret Atwood’s Negotiating with the Dead. It started life as a set of lectures she was asked to give at Cambridge University in 2000 and I can’t say I’m displeased she decided to work these up into book form. The book deals with some pretty fundamental questions: What is ‘a writer’? Who do we write for? Is writing for money a bad thing? and so on.
The thing I found interesting from a personal point of view is how many of the questions I really didn’t have a definitive answer to. My question is: Do I need the answers?
I used to do this thing – you couldn’t really call it a game more a way of annoying someone – where I’d ask why they did something e.g. cross the road and whatever their answer was I’d ask why again. Let me illustrate:
Q: Why did you cross the road?
A: To get to the other side.
Q: Why do you want to get to the other side?
A: So I can go home.
Q: Why do you want to go home?
A: To get my dinner.
Q: Why do you need your dinner?
A: Because if I don’t eat I’ll die.
Q: Why will you die?
A: Because my body’s designed that way.
Q: Why is your body designed that way?
A: Because that’s what God decided.
Q: So God made you cross the road?
You get the idea. God can, of course, be replaced with The Big Bang if you prefer. The point is if you keep asking enough questions it doesn’t matter where you start off the answer is always God or The Big Bang. You can analyse things into the ground if you’re not careful. Why should there necessarily be a one-to-one correlation between action and reaction?
What I think I’m saying is that being a writer is less of a physical thing and more of a chemical thing, like making a cup of coffee. Not everyone makes coffee the same way nor enjoys it the same way. Some people don’t even like coffee.
So the question needs to be asked:
Q: What kind of coffee are you?
A: God alone knows.
The above is, of course, not a definitive answer by any manner or mean. You might want to check out the following ‘answers’:
Stephen King: Why did you become a writer?
Melissa Soldani: How Did You Become a Writer?
Anne Fine: How did you become a writer?
Clarence Major: Necessary distance: afterthoughts on becoming a writer
Ally Carter: When did you decide to become a writer?
If pushed I’d go with what Paul Auster wrote in Hand to Mouth,
“Becoming a writer is not a ‘career decision,’ like becoming a doctor or a policeman. You don’t choose it so much as get chosen, and once you accept the fact that you’re not fit for anything else (a claim incidently also made by Samuel Beckett), you have to be prepared to walk a long, hard road for the rest of your days.”