Living with the Truth Stranger than Fiction This Is Not About What You Think Milligan and Murphy Making Sense

Sunday, 12 October 2008

What it means to be a writer

Me at about 24 years of age

I don't really do the biography thing very often. I don't think I'm an especially interesting guy. I keep wishing I could come up with witty anecdotes like Ken Armstrong but I guess I've either lived a very boring life or – and this is more likely the case – I have a very bad memory.

What I do remember is writing. I remember desks I've written on and the machines I've worked on. I remember the neck pain, the wrist and shoulder pain. I remember getting cramp in my leg so bad that I thought it had been broken somewhere in the past and had only just decided to start to hurt. I remember going out of my way to get fancy typing paper in a wee shop down the harbour. I remember sending my poems to Philip Larkin when I was sixteen and getting a form letter back from his secretary. What I remember is a life that always had writing in it even if it didn't necessarily revolve around writing.

For so many of those years I struggled with identifying myself as a writer, well, a poet, since all I'd written was poetry and all I expected I'd ever write was poetry. I wanted to look in the mirror and see a poet and believe that what I was seeing was a poet but for so long I felt I was playing at it all.

Anyway, I'm not going to tell you all about it here. If you want to find out a bit more then have a look at my guest post on A Book Blogger's Diary entitled, What it means to be a writer. Some of the stuff will be familiar to regular visitors but hopefully not all; I've only got so many wise words of wisdom to pass on I'm afraid. I wrote it just after a couple of people called my poetry 'extraordinary' and I was feeling very conscious of how non-extraordinary I am.


Ken Armstrong said...

Hey, thanks for the mention James!

In your photo, you look like 'Bria'n, a friend of fine from Sligo. He is a kind, sensitive, highly intelligent guy - 'seperated at birth or wot? :)

I enjoyed this guest post - but we'll cover that over there, eh?

By the way - I hate the word 'anecdote' although I've used it myself in an earlier manifestation of my blog which lurks around the 'hinternet' somewhere. I think if one ever announces that one has an 'anecdote' to tell, then the party is over and it's time to go home. :)

Jim Murdoch said...

A 'kind, sensitive, highly intelligent guy' - yeah, that was me, a saft smartfart.

Sorry about the 'anecdote' thing. I, of course, meant ripping yarns.

Dave King said...

A good post Jim, which I enjoyed reading, as also I enjoyed the guest post. Works both ways, though, this format / subject business. The format can dictate (limit, if you will) the subject matter.

khaye said...

You may think that you are an non-extraordinary but your readers think you are special. You are a great writer Jim, I love your words. Simple but can smite.

Art Durkee said...

I tried to post this over there, but it wouldn't let me:

Pretty insightful.

And you're right, the word poet carries more of a stigma than the word writer. That's probably because so many people do call themselves poets who have only scribbled a few lines. There's no entrance fee to the camp, and no initiation ritual.

Funnily enough, I am much more comfortable calling myself a poet than a writer. For one thing, it's more important to me to call myself an artist—one who works in multiple media—than by a label that limits me to one medium, one artform, so maybe that colors my choice. A lifelong battle against those who claimed when I was young that I had to choose and become expert at only one artform. I think I've proved them wrong, and I have my role models to point at, too.

I agree with you about the Internet, BTW. It's a good thing to be able to find similar souls who want to talk about what mutually matters. It's still just a tool, though, and everything depends on how we use it.

Jim Murdoch said...

THAT is the very point I'm on about, Dave - if I set off to write a haiku I really can't delve too deeply into the human psyche. There's no scope. I don't like being limited and for so many years I consciously limited myself to poetry which meant I had to chop up what was going on in my head to fit into the poems. Once I realised I was capable of working in other forms then I could open up.

Khaye, I'm glad you love my words. It does matter to me that I can reach people. I'm a little puzzled by you last sentence – "Simple but can smite" – since 'smite' reminds me of the story of David and Goliath. I don't think I've ever seen the word used outwith that context. And, yes, words can do a lot of damage. I wrote a short story once with the line "Short, sharp words fired at will" because angry people don't tend to pontificate, they use whatever words come to hand. I really don't have much time for people who use words that way. People say "Sticks and stones…" but words can cut to the bone – we talk about 'cutting remarks'. I'm sure I've got you wrong though.

Ah, INSIGHT, Art, now that's the one that comes after wisdom, isn't it? Or is that discernment? Not sure. I certainly never felt pressurised to pick only one mode of expression. As I've said, I've composed music and painted but it was clear quite soon that although I was competent at these I really didn’t have natural talent. Writing was different. As I've written already, writing was my natural response to what was going on around me and in my life.

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