Now let’s address the other side of the coin: I’m going to paraphrase the move ‘Ratatouille’ here when I say that “Not everyone can write, but a good writer can come from anywhere.” The weird thing is that so many skilled and imaginative people talk themselves out of trying to write a book, well before they really get stuck in to trying. Why is that? I think there are two main reasons: Elitism and Exposure. Fear of writing elitism, and writing as a way of self-exposure.
Let’s start with the first point: books have always held this air of being something pure. Reading as a pastime used to be the preserve of the upper class: it was a luxury of a skill. Therefore, even though you get books aimed at kids with titles like “Aliens Love Underpants” nowadays, books still have and perhaps always will have a shade of conservative elitism to them.
So by extension we all inherently believe authors to be the cultural keeper of the keys, to be connoisseurs and artistes in their profession, untouchable and unquestionable. I think that intimidates a lot of would-be-writers, really: it can be easy to walk around a bookstore and feel as if every page of every book landed perfectly formed on the shelves.
Don't be fooled: beneath the veneer of prudish perfection that books generally have are layers of hard-earned sweat, blood, grit and tears that you will never see.
But it’s high time we stopped seeing writing and authorship this way. Writing is messy. Delightfully, deliciously messy. A dirty, virile mongrel of an art form. The editing is, in a way, an unwelcome formality, like the hangover after a wild party.
I’m not just blowing hot air, here. Think about it. In this modern era, everyone over the age of five can write, and we can all write darn well if we put our minds to it. Writing is the most democratic form of artistic expression out there. Sure, photos and films you shoot, music you make, paintings you paint craft you create all say something about you as a person and as an artist. But they are limited to an extent by the nature of their medium and the skill of whoever is wielding it. Writing has none of those things. Unless we're being pedantic and calling language itself a limitation, writing isn't limited in this way, and barrier for entry is low. Put it this way: you couldn't pick up a guitar or a brush and expect to be as good as Slash or Monet in a week. But I guarantee that on a good day, any layman on the street, with a little bit of good sense and discipline, could write a few passages that wouldn't look out of place in an Ernest Hemingway novel.
So why is it that people who proudly indulge in a deliberately bad jam of piano-playing for fun and share mediocre photos with all of their friends online will run for the hills the moment you ask them to write a short story? Well this brings me on to my second theory as to why people fear writing: fear of exposure. I think its because of writing asks of you. It asks you to dig deep into yourself and show it. No other form of expression exposes you as a person quite like writing.
Think about it. Because writing is such a democratic skill that involves nothing more than the arrangement of letters and numbers, to make it work as an art means harnessing something very personal: your innermost thoughts and ideas. There is no medium to hide behind. And some people are very uncomfortable doing that. The trouble is, some people completely over-think just how deep they have to dig. They take the age old mantra of write what you know way too far, and think that they have to spill their blood and guts on the page to be worthy, exposing their deepest fears, darkest secrets and skeletons in the closet in order to be validated. The result is usually some kind of uncomfortable semi-biography of endless misery. And some of these end up being published. You’ll see these in your book store: usually wrapped in identical white covers with black-and-white photos from a lost childhood. ‘Pity Junkie books’, I called them.
That’s not what it means to write. When we talk about harnessing the self, we mean your imagination, not your life experiences per se. Wait, now I didn’t say you shouldn’t use your events in your life as idea fodder – you should – but you are selling your imagination short here. People shrug the imagination off as being some wishy-washy nebulous thing that has now relation to your real life. On the contrary, your imagination is a delightful mishmash of experiences mixed with your ideas, fears, hopes and beliefs. Not only is this a much deeper vein to mine for writing gold, but this doesn’t ask you to expose yourself utterly.
So, with all of that said, get writing! Seriously, now we’ve debunked the idea of writing as an elitist preserve that demands digging up your soul, you should be able to write with no fear. Anyone can write, including you! So get to it!