Recently I was asked why I write. For some reason it annoyed me! This is my slightly ranty response explaining why I write one Wednesday morning at 3 a.m. It starts with a very lazy poem.
Why do I write?
Why do I feed my children?
Why do I blink?
Why do I think?
Why do I dream?
Why do I live?
Why does my heart beat?
Why does one foot fall in front of the other?
Why do I breathe?
Why will I die?
Why do I write?
…but it’s so cliche. I write because I do, because I want to, because I have to — just the same reason that anyone does anything they are passionate about. Passion is a part of us, and after a while, if we are lucky enough to really fit our passion into our world, the passion becomes our daily life and maybe slips into being everything and nothing. Our stress, our reward, our heaven and our hell — and our daily bread: it feeds our heads, our hearts, our banks and our passion.
I don’t like writing about writing. It aggravates me and makes me a cliche … a writer who loves writing. Quel surprise — no different from an accountant who loves accounting, or an architect who loves drafting, but because words are our skill we’re expected to wax lyrical about it.
A bit too negative? Maybe. But the poem and the cliche-hater is me: my ‘wholehearted, all-encompassed, inextricably-connected adoration of writing’ writer, and my ‘Wednesday afternoon, stressed about deadlines, frustrated by the endless monotony of it all’ writer. All writers count themselves exceedingly lucky to be paid to write: who wouldn’t feel lucky to do what they love?
The connection between my life and my writing is impossible to define – it’s in everything I do.
My point is not that I don’t like writing — very, very far from it — but that I don’t feel I should need to examine why I do my job, as most other professions don’t need to. My day-to-day writing work ISN’T wandering aimless as a cloud, it’s churning out webcopy about running, about scaffold towers, about cleaning and about website design — all of them paid for by clients whose voice I am. I switch from teacher in the morning to jobbing builder in an afternoon, and it’s not easy, and, in honesty, it’s not a lot of fun much of the time. I do it because they can’t.
I hope you can see a little better where I’m coming from. Never think I don’t love writing. I do, and I’m bound to it till death do us part.
“And I shall go on talking in a low voice while the sea sounds in the distance and overhead the great black flood of wind polishes the bright stars.”
One literary critic, Stanley Fish, cited this as one of his favourite sentences ever written in the English language. (It comes from Ford Madox Ford‘s The Good Soldier, published in 1915.)
Personally, I’m a bit of a Hamlet hag and love the sound and rhythm of the:
‘O that this too, too sullied flesh would melt’ bit. Can’t say I like the idea itself, but it’s lovely to listen to.
Then, of course, there’s the opening lines from The Hobbit:
‘In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit. Not a nasty, dirty, wet hole, filled with the ends of worms and an oozy smell, nor yet a dry, bare, sandy hole with nothing in it to sit down on or to eat: it was a hobbit-hole, and that means comfort.’
What’s your favourite English sentence of all time?
You have to love this poem. Have a read and you’ll realise just how difficult English is to learn when you weren’t born into it!
Dearest creature in creation
Studying English pronunciation,
I will teach you in my verse
Sounds like corpse, corps, horse and worse
I will keep you, Susy, busy,
Make your head with heat grow dizzy.
Tear in eye your dress you’ll tear,
So shall I! Oh, hear my prayer,
Pray, console your loving poet,
Make my coat look new, dear, sew it!
Just compare heart, beard and heard,
Dies and diet, lord and word,
Sword and sward, retain and Britain.
(Mind the latter, how it’s written).
Made has not the sound of bade,
Say said, pay-paid, laid, but plaid.
Now I surely will not plague you
With such words as vague and ague,
But be careful how you speak,
Say break, steak, but bleak and streak.
Previous, precious, fuchsia, via,
Pipe, snipe, recipe and choir,
Cloven, oven, how and low,
Script, receipt, shoe, poem, toe.
Hear me say, devoid of trickery:
Daughter, laughter and Terpsichore,
Typhoid, measles, topsails, aisles.
Exiles, similes, reviles.
Wholly, holly, signal, signing.
Thames, examining, combining
Scholar, vicar, and cigar,
Solar, mica, war, and far.
From “desire”: desirable–admirable from “admire.”
Lumber, plumber, bier, but brier.
Chatham, brougham, renown, but known.
Knowledge, done, but gone and tone,
One, anemone. Balmoral.
Kitchen, lichen, laundry, laurel,
Gertrude, German, wind, and mind.
Scene, Melpomene, mankind,
Tortoise, turquoise, chamois-leather,
Reading, reading, heathen, heather.
This phonetic labyrinth
Gives moss, gross, brook, brooch, ninth, plinth.
Billet does not end like ballet;
Bouquet, wallet, mallet, chalet;
Blood and flood are not like food,
Nor is mould like should and would.
Banquet is not nearly parquet,
Which is said to rime with “darky.”
Viscous, Viscount, load, and broad.
Toward, to forward, to reward.
And your pronunciation’s O.K.,
When you say correctly: croquet.
Rounded, wounded, grieve, and sieve,
Friend and fiend, alive, and live,
Liberty, library, heave, and heaven,
Rachel, ache, moustache, eleven,
We say hallowed, but allowed,
People, leopard, towed, but vowed.
Mark the difference, moreover,
Between mover, plover, Dover,
Leeches, breeches, wise, precise,
Chalice, but police, and lice.
Camel, constable, unstable,
Principle, disciple, label,
Petal, penal, and canal,
Wait, surmise, plait, promise, pal.
Suit, suite, ruin, circuit, conduit,
Rime with “shirk it” and “beyond it.”
But it is not hard to tell,
Why it’s pall, mall, but Pall Mall.
Muscle, muscular, gaol, iron,
Timber, climber, bullion, lion,
Worm and storm, chaise, chaos, and chair,
Senator, spectator, mayor,
Ivy, privy, famous, clamour
And enamour rime with hammer.
Pussy, hussy, and possess,
Desert, but dessert, address.
Golf, wolf, countenance, lieutenants.
Hoist, in lieu of flags, left pennants.
River, rival, tomb, bomb, comb,
Doll and roll and some and home.
Stranger does not rime with anger.
Neither does devour with clangour.
Soul, but foul and gaunt but aunt.
Font, front, won’t, want, grand, and grant.
Shoes, goes, does. Now first say: finger.
And then: singer, ginger, linger,
Real, zeal, mauve, gauze, and gauge,
Marriage, foliage, mirage, age.
Query does not rime with very,
Nor does fury sound like bury.
Dost, lost, post; and doth, cloth, loth;
Job, Job; blossom, bosom, oath.
Though the difference seems little,
We say actual, but victual.
Seat, sweat; chaste, caste.; Leigh, eight, height;
Put, nut; granite, and unite.
Reefer does not rime with deafer,
Feoffer does, and zephyr, heifer.
Dull, bull, Geoffrey, George, ate, late,
Hint, pint, Senate, but sedate.
Scenic, Arabic, Pacific,
Science, conscience, scientific,
Tour, but our and succour, four,
Gas, alas, and Arkansas.
Sea, idea, guinea, area,
Psalm, Maria, but malaria,
Youth, south, southern, cleanse and clean,
Doctrine, turpentine, marine.
Compare alien with Italian,
Dandelion with battalion.
Sally with ally, yea, ye,
Eye, I, ay, aye, whey, key, quay.
Say aver, but ever, fever.
Neither, leisure, skein, receiver.
Never guess–it is not safe:
We say calves, valves, half, but Ralph.
Heron, granary, canary,
Crevice and device, and eyrie,
Face but preface, but efface,
Phlegm, phlegmatic, ass, glass, bass.
Large, but target, gin, give, verging,
Ought, out, joust, and scour, but scourging,
Ear but earn, and wear and bear
Do not rime with here, but ere.
Seven is right, but so is even,
Hyphen, roughen, nephew, Stephen,
Monkey, donkey, clerk, and jerk,
Asp, grasp, wasp, and cork and work.
Pronunciation–think of psyche–!
Is a paling, stout and spikey,
Won’t it make you lose your wits,
Writing “groats” and saying “grits”?
It’s a dark abyss or tunnel,
Strewn with stones, like rowlock, gunwale,
Islington and Isle of Wight,
Housewife, verdict, and indict!
Don’t you think so, reader, rather,
Saying lather, bather, father?
Finally: which rimes with “enough”
Though, through, plough, cough, hough, or tough?
Hiccough has the sound of “cup.”
My advice is–give it up!