Updated: Feb 19, 2020
Welcome to a curious new series of journals in which I explore the writing process, the genres in which I write as well as our relationship with the literary worlds of our past, present and future. To begin with, in this article I would like to answer one question: 'Why do I write?'
I am, by nature, a curious soul. That curiosity not only extends to the magnificent and complex universe in which we live but also to human behaviour. This deepest of mysteries is why stories and storytelling have been a universal part of humanity since before the dawn of civilisation.
From the time that man learned to control fire and had hours of secure warmth away from the crueller worries of the world, he has had the time to imagine. Part of this imagining, this dreaming, has manifested itself in the form of storytelling. Story and storytelling are universal to every culture. The core elements they involve do not often vary.
Humans are social beings at heart. We create, share and retell stories to empathise and to learn. Before providing entertainment, stories provided the practical and emotional knowledge required to navigate life. Those primal needs to understand our world and to empathise with others remain with us. This is why great stories still move us so deeply.
The desire to move readers in the same way as I have been touched by great stories is central to why I write. My writing is built on many aspects of life that have caught my imagination. That includes both factual and fictional stories, as well as the experiences I have had, the places to which I have travelled and the subjects I find engaging.
One of the main tenets that writers are often taught is ‘write what you know’. On face value this makes sense. You have to be familiar with something to depict it accurately. It can be applied to everything from drawing characters from life to creating realistic dialogue or a tangible story world. Writing from observation and personal experience will usually lead to a very realistic and heartfelt story.
On the other hand, it has often been rightly pointed out that ‘write what you know’ would make many of the greatest works of fiction impossible. What on earth would Tolkein have known about being an Elf, a Dwarf or a Hobbit? Should a female author write from a man's perspective or vice versa? We accept that authors have imagination and hopefully a little wisdom to go along with it.
At the end of the day, I believe there are no absolutes. ’Write what you know’ is a guideline but also a very generic oversimplification. To me, a writer should constantly be exploring and discovering new things. This includes the knowledge they may need to tell any given story effectively. In other words, if you don’t know about it then find out. Do your research.
‘Write about what you are interested in’ is the tenet I follow. When I am asked why I write about times and places other than the here and now, I always answer that that is what interests me. Interest is not a choice but interests can develop over time. What is important is that a writer’s interests will lead to the most passionate storytelling. That passion will rub off on the reader.
Why is a key theme of these articles going to be the literary worlds of our past, present and future? My writing, as per its inspiration, is always about somewhere else or in another time. Some literary worlds are very realistic and reflective of the time in which they are set. Others are creative to the extreme in their invention.
Yet at their best literary worlds all draw from life with inherent truths. Their reflections on our identity intrigue and shape me. At a more basic level, I have always been curious about history and I have always found the most inspiration from travel. This is why you will never find me in the here and now.
So why do I write? I write, as the adage goes, to make people think by making them feel.
In his next edition of this writing journal, Mr Wainwright will explore the divergence of literary and genre fiction as well as how they can be reconciled.
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