Trips, traps, landmarks - part one

by Paul Burman

Sometimes I wonder why it is I’ve spent my whole life wanting---no, needing to be a writer. Why is it that anybody decides to follow a particular path? Any path. Is it nature or is it nurture?

I was six when I tried scribbling my first (and only) film script. It was about a soccer match that was somehow going to decide the fate of the planet, except it would be a comedy. A divine comedy! There’d be a team of Hells Angels on one side.

I can’t remember if I wrote more than four or five pages, but I do remember that the idea was inspired by three things:

  • a fleeting interest in soccer,
  • the screening of several Ealing Studios’ comedies on Sunday afternoon TV, which I thought were pretty funny,
  • a maroon, hard-cover notebook, which someone had given me for Christmas, and how those two hundred beautiful pages of clean, lined paper were begging for something special to be written in them.

But this early and incomplete creative effort, I suspect, is similar to something many of us do in childhood. We write plays, put on puppet shows for parents and uncles and aunties, enact roles through games, and tell one another stories as we drift towards sleep. There’s nothing unusual in this. So what is it, beyond this, that fires in us a desire to spend a lifetime crafting words, creating tales, aiming to capture an audience’s attention?

Is it because someone whose opinion we cherish praises an early effort? Does this sow some seed in our psyche to try and try again, in crave of praise and a readership? Or is it the absence of this that compels us to write and write again, craving any reaction whatsoever? And if we dismiss the attention-seeking argument, is it because we are genetically wired to tell stories and explore truths, in the same way that some are wired to take risks or to stretch their physical ability to run faster, jump higher, or to protect or to nurture others?

Nature or nurture, or a little bit of both?

If, when I was eight, I hadn’t won a parcel of fishing gear for my entry in a short story competition, would my interest for writing have waned in the same way my interest in soccer and fishing waned? After all, I wasn’t that hooked on literature at this age (it more or less amounted to reading Emil and the Detectives by Erich Kastner seven times, perhaps on the basis that depth of reading might equate with breadth of reading). And it didn’t trouble me that I won a book token for an Historical Society’s short story competition, with a piece about the Danes battling it out with the Angles, simply because mine was the only entry. Even this wasn’t enough to make me question where I was heading with an interest, which few other people seemed to share, in scribbling down stories.

What I’m saying, I suppose, is that there are landmarks in any journey we take. There are points at which we stop or are stopped, and obstacles we overleap. They begin to define us and our passions, as well as our pet-hates. Sometimes we carry on regardless, not really knowing why we need to carry on or how we started in the first place. All the same, it’s a useful thing to know, I think, why we chase the dreams we do, and what it is we hope to achieve in fulfilling them.


Stella said...

It was about a soccer match that was somehow going to decide the fate of the planet, except it would be a comedy. A divine comedy! There’d be a team of Hells Angels on one side.

I wish I'd thought of that.

Anyway, I can't remember a precise moment when I decided to become a writer. I was pretty much caught up in the middle before I realized it - if that makes any sense. I suppose it's a bit of nature and nurture. I've always loved to read and have been encouraged to read, so I think my writing came out of that.

Unknown said...

I'm not sure exactly why I believed as soon as I realized there were such people that I was a born writer, no matter what anyone said. But this partial quote from Flaubert (h/t John Baker)>
sums up why I'd never give it up.

" man and woman...I rode in a forest on an autumn afternoon under the yellow leaves, and I was also the horses, the leaves, the wind, the words my people uttered, even the red sun that made them almost close their love-drowned eyes..."

Mike French said...

My landmark came about 4 years ago when I couldn't get the nagging itch to write out of my mind.

I finally gave in one morning and sat down to write - with no idea really of what I was doing or what the story was.

That was the start of a journey of discovery for me - funny what you find you can do ( much to my surprise!)

Anonymous said...

Stella: Yep, that does make sense. It's true that sometimes we drift into things or get drawn towards them without fully realising it until later.

Nice quote, Kathleen. And an interesting blog over at John Baker too. Thanks for that.

Only four years ago, Mike? That surprises me. Had you flirted with writing fiction before that at all?

Mike French said...

No Paul - only at school. That's why when the itch to write first came I thought it was a daft idea as my background is in science and engineering.

It's been a fast learning curve - but so far a hell of a ride!

Anonymous said...

That's a dramatic change in direction, Mike---or, if not a change, then a dramatic additonal direction to take. And all the more impressive given your achievements across the last four years. You've set quite a pace. I wonder where the next four years will see you!