Monday, 2 December 2013

The Writer's Desire For Immortality

Something To Be Remembered By

Rather like being an actor or a singer, the chances of achieving fame or great wealth as a writer are slim. So allowing for the fact that many of us writers are either idiots, optimists or are blindly happy to delude ourselves, what is the motivation for the remainder?

Most writers remember that warm feeling we got the first time we saw our name on a book cover or our name at the head of an article in a magazine or newspaper. We probably never before in our lives believed that we would see it, and yet there it is. Even better, is the feeling when we pop into a bookshop in some far away town, city or country and see one of our books on a shelf. It still thrills me when people e-mail, Tweet or Facebook me pictures of my book on some far-away shelf. It is also a physical validation of what has been gained after months and years of hard work, excruciating editing and trying to find a publisher. It is satisfaction well deserved and well earned.

As they say, despite the undeniably enormous odds against you, if you don't buy a lottery ticket you can't win the lottery. We know the chances of us striking it big with a bestseller are small, but at least we are in the running. Like the lottery ticket that I never really believe will be a big prize winner, I check my Amazon sales reports just in case there has been a massive jump in sales for some reason. To some extent it makes life more worth living. If we have no hope then life is not worth getting out of bed for.

Self Image
Many of us are not happy with the image others have of us and this relates to more than the clothes we wear or our haircut. What we do for a living plays a major part. Some of us cringe when someone we meet socially asks us "So what do you do?" Few of us, I am guessing, are totally satisfied with giving an honest answer. I used to run a risk management company, specialising in workplace safety. Telling someone that, I felt, gave a poor impression of what I was really like. For myself I didn't care that much - in fact it amused me to make it sound as dull as possible and watch people's reaction. But I know I feel more comfortable now, telling people that I write books. I'd be a fool and a liar to deny it.

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This seems obvious really, but some people (like myself) actually enjoy the process of writing – the observation of life, the invention, the weaving of a story, making characters into real people and thrilling readers with a great ending. I won't say it's better than sex. That would be overstating it and would fall into the category of an unforgivable cliche. Not everyone enjoys writing. Many find the process absolute torture and feel no pleasure until they finish. Even then they fear bad reviews or awkward questions. The image of the tortured writer living in a garret is an attractive one for me, yet I seem unable to experience it for myself, however hard I try.

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This leaves the writer's desire for immortality. Death features in so many popular books as well as in paintings, music and in poetry. We are drawn to it, yet I dare say we all fear it in some way or another. Most writers have a desire for fame of some kind. At least they write in order to be recognised by others. Their greatest hope is that they might write something that people will still be reading long after they are dead. I don't need tell you why. Death is so final, isn't it. Wouldn't it be great if we could live on, even if only in the minds of others - and the more 'others' the better really. I lost my father as a teenager. He was only 37 and was seemingly very healthy so it was unexpected. It left me with many regrets about things I should have said to him and and done with him before he died. Perhaps if there is life after death us writers might find ourselves cursing ourselves for what we should and could have written, but didn't? People who know about my regrets over the things I failed to say to my father sometimes ask me for advice when their parents are old or ill. How can they avoid the same pitfalls, they ask, and not be left feeling later that they should and could have said this or that? Here is something I wrote as a reply this week. It might be helpful to share it and to draw a parallel with the need to be sure that we write everything we should while we can – and to make sure that what we write is bloody good!

Dear Bill,

How very sad to hear about your father. I have thought hard about your question regarding what you might say to him while you have the chance. I would make these comments:

1. When I can't think of anything to say, I have learned that what is usually needed is to ask questions (or keep quiet). 
Ask him what are his strongest memories about the two of you together, perhaps. This might enable him to say things he wants to say but finds difficult. It may open a door. This could be a huge relief to him, and therefore a great satisfaction to you, especially later.

2. For yourself, remember that many of us hold living friends and family in our hearts and minds. Perhaps they have emigrated or you are both too busy to see each other, yet we know they are there. They are real and we draw strength from them being there, however far away. It might be that you never see each other again, in fact, but you know they are still there. Realise then, that the difference between this situation and that person having died and moved on is only one of cold scientific fact. Scientific fact is not what binds you. Love, memories and emotion is what binds you and that will remain beyond death if you allow it to. It is about how we decide to see things. You may or may not wish to share this with your father. Personally I would, but that is a matter of personal choice.

I wish you well in this Bill, and commend you for your courage and determination to do something valuable, while your father is still here in body. Most shy away from that and regret it later.

Best wishes



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