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The Lure of the Page

January 18, 2010

via ANU

What motivates you to write in the first place?

This was the question one of my twitter associates posed to me last week. It is a little like ‘why do you write’ with a subtle twist. His question asked me what actually compels me to the page.

The answer is different for everyone.

The Thrill of Escape and Control

When I wrote as a teenager it was the thrill of being taken out of my world and into another world I could not just get lost in but also control. What teenager wouldn’t willingly go somewhere they could have a Godlike presence over?

I’ve also come to understand and appreciate though what David Sedaris, humorist and essayist, has had to say on my teenage fantasies of deityhood, “Writing gives you the illusion of control, and then you realize it’s just an illusion, that people are going to bring their own stuff into it.” Not only to people bring their own interpretation, the characters themselves bring their own story, one they are often precious about and  I am the puppet rather than the puppetmaster.

I still love the feeling of taking a deep breath and stepping off the cliff of reality into the alternate world of fiction, and while I still do it partly to escape, it is now the thrill of being lead astray by my characters. It is the adventure I find there, which is often lacking in the four walls of suburbia, which draws me to the page. On a dull day at Number 26, amid lawn mowers wailing and the splash from the backyard pool, I could be invited to a coronation, a funeral or become the holder of a deadly secret. I could watch in as a first date goes pear shaped, pirates over run a fortress in Spain or the first human sets foot on an alien planet.

Voices in My Head

How can you possibly say no to writing when characters come to you with their stories? Novelist, E.L. Doctorow said,”Writing is a socially acceptable form of schizophrenia.” Talk about hitting nail on the head! While it might be OK to talk about the voice/s in your head to other writers steer clear of sharing it with non-writing folk who look at you with a large dose of concern. Thus I love it when writers talk about the voices in their head.

For those who experience inner narration, they know there is no greater motivating force than the desire to go to the toilet, have a shower or sleep the whole night through without being pestered about a story. The only way to get peace is to write the story down.

The Need to Have My Say

The most recent motivator for me though, is best summed up in the words of biographer Catherine Drinker. “Writing, I think, is not apart from living. Writing is a kind of double living. The writer experiences everything twice. Once in reality and once in that mirror which waits always before or behind.”

As I get older, I seem to arrive at the page because I have something to say about the world around me. The something to say is a burning need, full of passion and a healthy dose outrage. Fiction is my vehicle not just to purge or rant and but to enlist my own brand of propaganda.  This has become most apparent after my involvement in the Fourth Fiction competition (where there really was the strangest and most beautiful sort of double living going on) and the almost finished novella which came out of it. Every newspaper article about government, bureaucratic and medical meddling in homebirth and interference with women’s’ bodies now strengthens my resolve to finish my novella and gives me fodder for another installment.

In Print

Lastly there is the dangling carrot of publication – the thrill of seeing my work in print, of it being read beyond my own small circle of family, friends and online acquaintances and the potential for being paid. In the past few months I have come to the page specifically to tell a story for publication. It is a strange but ultimately satisfying way to create, especially when driven by a tight deadline. In this space procrastination is not invited and I like that. Perhaps I really do work best under pressure? While one story has been published and I’m yet to hear about the other, it signals to me, my approach and the place writing has in my life has evolved. I’m in a new place, one I’m very excited to be exploring.


I wonder how I went years without writing now. Writing keeps me sane (another good reason to show up), happy and balanced. It is also horrendously frustrating at times, damn hard work and takes me away from my family. It’s a blessing to know the motivators continue to outweigh the other dark side.

So, what motivates you to write?

You can find more fun quotes about writing at Work not Magic: 20 Writers on Writing

Jodi Cleghorn’s favourite new quote is on from Moliere: Writing is like prostitution. First you do it for love, and then for a few close friends, and then for money. You can read more about her literary exploits at Writing in Black and White or her foray into publishing with Paul Anderson and a growing band of writers at Chinese Whisperings.
  1. January 18, 2010 1:23 am

    I’d be lying to say that seeing my name and words in a publication was NOT a motivator – but its not a high one…. the voices are the definite one for me…characters begging for their story to be told… demanding to be heard.

  2. January 18, 2010 5:26 am

    I write for a lot of the same reasons you do – a character won’t leave me in peace until I’ve told their story, a seemingly throwaway line gets lodged in my head until I write about it, or maybe I just want to invent my own world in order to escape this one. But then there’s the bonus prize -bringing entertainment and escapism to others…

  3. January 18, 2010 12:49 pm

    As a child I learned to read at 4 yrs. of age and spent the ensuing years being taken out of my world and into worlds of wonder and magic.

    I don’t hear voices in my head, characters begging me to tell their stories, and I wonder about that. Many times I only have a sentence, a title, a glimpse. I don’t have ideas rushing about and fingers flying to keep up with it all. Get worried about that many times.

    For me, it is after I’ve written and edited and polished, that I read and say, “Oh! Did that come from me?”

    And I am happy.

    Perhaps I need to give myself a strict talking-to. Just tell myself to sit down in that chair and write.

    Writing is an adventure. Exhausting, scary, and puzzling at times.

    But in the end, it is worth it all.

  4. January 18, 2010 1:56 pm

    Sometimes, things come to me in the middle of the night and demand to be written. I try to argue with them, but I usually just give in, get up, and go ahead and write it down.

  5. January 18, 2010 4:08 pm

    I know what you mean Ken. I have a rule generally though – if I’ve been asleep and the idea wakes me up in the middle of the night, then it has to wait until morning. I don’t want my characters to assume I will just get up and forego sleep for them. I spend some time with the idea – sort of in a way to say ‘I honour you and I will get back to you.”

    If its before I go to sleep or late enough in the morning (say 5am) then I will get up and put something down.

    I have some pretty persistent characters and I feel that if I don’t set some boundaries for them, they will be at me 24/7.

  6. January 18, 2010 11:50 pm

    Marisa – I don’t think it’s a bad thing to be devoid of the voices in your head. MJ Hyland and Jeff Lindsey disagreed on the voices in the head route of writing. MJ actually looked at Jeff like he had two heads when he talked about the voices – not just of Dexter but of Dexter’s murderous alter consciousness, at the session I went to at the Brisbane Writer’s Festival last year. It was quiet entertaining. MJ was most adament she DOES NOT write like that.

    I don’t think there is a one size fits all approach and the beauty about discussing the processes of writing is that we can find others with our approach rather than feeling we don’t fit the mold (and now I’m having a spell spaz with that word! mold? mould? it’s all just looking green, revolting and like my bathroom)

    making the time to write and setting it as a priority is a brilliant motivator. Turning off the TV, the internet and locking the door to nosey friends are other great ideas. Write … even if it is bad. Writing anything is forward momentum, and like a rolling stone, any sort of motion, begets more motion. See tomorrow’s article, especially the link at the bottom to Emma Newman’s article – for permission to write badly. I think it is a brilliant motivator!

  7. adampb permalink
    January 21, 2010 4:20 pm

    And the answer is (e) all of the above. With the exception that the voices in my head are controlled by the strawberry iced, sprinkle encrusted doughnuts.

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