There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.
A couple of years ago I was tired of the spectre of writing. All my life I’d dreamed of being a writer, but now that I had the time to write the words weren’t forthcoming and I was sick of the constant niggling feeling that whatever I was doing, I should really have been writing instead. I thought at that time that if some fairy godmother or genie in a bottle had given me permission to never write again, I’d have been relieved.
I do not feel that way anymore.
Have you ever seen the movie Quills? Geoffrey Rush plays the scandalous Marquis de Sade, a (real-life) writer and revolutionary in 17th-century France whose libidinous acts landed him in prison, where he spent much of his life and did most of his writing. When, as part of his punishment, the Marquis de Sade is deprived of pen and paper, he takes to writing with wine on the bed sheets, or with his own blood and excrement on the walls.
The whole film is a treatise on the act and importance of writing. Apparently the tune that the Marquis de Sade constantly hums is the children’s song Au Clair de la Lune, the second line of which translates as “lend me your quill so I can write a word”. Apparently every line that was cut from the film’s script made it into the film in one way or another, either written on clothing or bed sheets or on the walls of de Sade’s prison cell. Not a word that was written was lost or wasted.
Not every writer achieves the Marquis de Sade’s notoriety. Not every writer is even published, and some successful writers are scathingly critical of the fact that in these days of blogging and self-publishing, every wannabe writer can find a voice. I don’t think Milan Kundera meant it in a positive way when he wrote, in The Book of Laughter and Forgetting:
The irresistible proliferation of graphomania among politicians, taxi drivers, childbearers, lovers, murderers, thieves, prostitutes, officials, doctors, and patients shows me that everyone without exception bears a potential writer within him, so that the entire human species has good reason to go down the streets and shout: ‘We are all writers!’
But sometimes the words that we write can make a difference. They can make a difference to those around us, or just to ourselves. Or, like the words that sprung from Eve Ensler’s pen when she sat down to write The Vagina Monologues, they can make a difference to millions around the world.
If a genie in a bottle were to grant me three wishes now, I would not wish never to have to write again, but rather that I will always have the right words to say what I need to say, and the tools with which to say them. I admire the Marquis de Sade’s determination, but I think I’d rather drink my wine and leave my blood flowing in my veins so that I might write another day.
Give me a quill or a computer. And leave the rest to me.