Writing and reading for pleasure – Part 1: Why write? | Douglas Burcham | Guest Post

Douglas woke frightened in the night, sensing a grim reaper had left home, when would she arrive? … Could Douglas disappear?

Part One: Why Write?

Today is four years since I started to write fiction, well other than all the business reports I wrote before while at work. I suppose for up to five years I can still class myself as a “new” writer as I am told writing is a lifetime activity. Mick has allowed me to post several times already on his TIPM website and has agreed to see how a monthly post from me on writing works out. The posts are my reflections on the interesting and challenging creative writing path to a distant summit I have followed during the last four years.

By far the largest group of people I have spoken to during the last four years have been those who want to write but have not managed to start. Several have even spent their hard earned cash and gone to classes in the belief this will get them going. I say to them just sit down with pen and pencil and MAKE A START!

My motivation came while after 2004 looking for something else to do with my life other than crosswords, Sudoku, decorating, travelling, sightseeing, playing bridge and golf all of which I can still do but have little motivation to do perhaps because of the old school economics law of diminishing returns having done that, seen that already etc. There were other things I would have liked to do but failing strength and energy levels stopped me doing such as more ocean sailing after 2009. Doing other activities including mountain walking at lower heights and slower speed are also frustrating.

About this time in my late sixties I realised why my father had been so frustrated with life and why those well acclaimed people in their sixties and older I came across at work when in my twenties did not seem anything special to me. Why not? I realise now they like me were getting older. I have aged as well from a prime in one’s twenties with quality of life seriously declining, sight and hearing poor, memory and speed of manipulation all going. As with Semprini who gave up playing the piano for similar reasons I needed something new I could do to keep my enthusiasm for life alive.

In my mind as well some reflection about what the hell or heaven had I spent my life doing on Earth? Discussing the issue with friends their views ranged from a very selfish have a good time, through procreation to prolong the human race to leaving the world a better place, onto complete dedication to doing good deeds for others.

I suppose I occupy the middle ground. I have managed to have a good time, done some procreating and helped people secure better homes and jobs. While doing family history research I noticed having a large family does not guarantee a family name being passed on.

So why write? Creative writing has lifted me out of the doom and gloom of ageing. The background above provides some clues to why I started. Early on 1st June 2010 I woke in the night damp and frightened about someone coming to kill me and my loved ones as a result of something my parents or I had done to them or their family in the past. My initial thought was I should write all these thoughts down before the dream dissipated. I started and am still writing over a million draft words later. This dream has resulted in the strap line first sentence of this post and also the skeleton as a chase, The Threat, to my fiction book Gemini of some 300,000 words which will divide up into between three and fifteen books.

I started writing and being a disciple of Goethe I recalled his words about making a start when unexpected doors open. So making a start was not a problem for me but again for all of you who have not yet started to write I urge you to make a start. Just sit down, write anything that comes into your head, do not worry about how you write, grammar, punctuation as the key thing not to lose is YOUR unique story you have in your head. Polishing up can follow later. I hope you will then find your own answers to why write.

I glowed in June 2010 when I realised I had at last found something new to do that I wanted to do. An even greater shock I found to be an ability to sit down and write and create stories and in particular beginnings and endings … the hole in the middle I have found takes me more time and effort. To my amazement also writing needs little strength and little energy apart from lifting my glass of red wine up from time to time and punching holes in printed paper of what I have run off to put in my back up files. Remember one cannot publish words one has lost.

The heaviest exercise is what goes on in my brain. Another delight is using my brain to recall events from as far back as I can remember and from this I have found a vast resource of ideas and memories which I have used in my writing turning the impossible into reality. My Uncle in his eighties used to write everything down in case he forgot and I had already found I needed to do the same but much earlier … oh …dear!  Writing is also relatively cheap compared to many other activities such as golf and travel. The pleasure of travelling on scrap paper with pen or pencil involves none of the traumas of car, train and air travel and is much less expensive. One can even have good weather. Electronic devices make word processing easier but are not essential.

I am often sad thinking about how little I know of my parents lives and their wider families … not the dull one dimensional stuff on Ancestry and registers of Births Deaths and Marriages. Their secrets, their loves and scandals, what they thought about, what they lived through – two wars, a depression and many lived in relative poverty and poor health not allowed the luxuries of leisure activities and retirement. By writing I can at least write down a sensationalised version of my own dull memories … or perhaps dear children and friends more of my writing may be truer than you might guess. Douglas does mean I recall deep or dark waters so they will flow.

Having seen Harnessing Peacocks on TV with a coming before dawn and afterwards reading the book and about Mary Wesley being of senior years before she published adult fiction I conclude it is never to late to start writing. As a senior silver surfer, pensioner and grumpy old man I have found a new activity giving me great delight and returning to my uncertainty about what life is all about I can also selfishly have a good time by creative writing. The one downside of sitting writing is it can be a lonely task for writer and family and I hear sitting for long periods is as bad as smoking and drinking too much. Also even breathing has risks. My wife says quite reasonably she has at times become a writing widow because I sit for hours in my study lost in my fantasy writing.

I reflect on my business reports “telling” rather than “showing”, the thank you letters written as a child and post cards I have written over the years were all a good set up for enjoying creative writing. I do not need a First at Cambridge in English Literature or be a member of the literary establishment to write for my own pleasure.

I attend writing and poetry groups – never would I have expected this pre 2010, to come away chuckling with a spring in my step at the sheer talent of other writers to write and read out aloud their stories and poems to delight about everyday events.

A few concluding thoughts about my writing for pleasure.

  • Once I started creative writing both my experience of fiction and non-fiction reading changed for the better as I appreciated the difficulties and the hurdles writers had overcome, or not and their use of structure and their skills.
  • I have met a wide range of new people locally and all around the world through web sites and blogs and shared their experiences.
  • Writing and reading is hard on the eyes so get some good glasses and read in good light. I really do appreciate the gift of sight. I have an amazing blind writing buddy Calvin who has written a great thriller, Turning Point, (Details to follow in a later post.) which I have read and commented on in draft and he listens to a vast number of books. He also commented on my poor punctuation, grammar and spelling and despairs at his pupil’s slow rate of learning!
  • Memory mining has been interesting and still new interesting matters drift back into my life every week.
  • Following Stephen King’s advice in his excellent book On Writing I am reading far more fiction and non-fiction. This has long been an unfulfilled New Years resolution along with improving my shoddy handwriting.
  • Satisfaction with what I have written, although much remains to be done to sharpen it up. I am not worried what others may think of my writing especially now I have decided my main priority is to write and read for pleasure. My reflections on publishing will come later.

Overall I am glad I had the dream four years ago earlier today which started me out on the path of creative writing. To date the grim reaper is still only on her way … last seen in a memory shaking her fist at me after I nearly fell while jumping on a moving 142 red bus in London in 1958.

Part Two will follow in July titled – What to write?

Douglas Burcham started writing on 1st June 2010 and has not stopped since. He was saved from the clutches of vanity publishing by Mick Rooney in TIPM in July 2010. In May 2013 his characters took all his fiction writing and set themselves up as the Allrighters with other writing friends. They published a book of short stories “Ywnwab!” in September 2013. By working in 18,000 word bites, Douglas with the Allrighters are now trying to convert a million words of draft writing into several books totalling 900,000 words of fiction and 100,000 words of non-fiction. The latter being about writing, trains, boats and planes.

Mick Rooney – Publishing Consultant

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