Last evening at a book launch in the city, I was thinking about the drive that makes people write, and write profuse lengths at that! There was Ram Guha who has himself written with a flourish for most of his life since his doctoral days, interviewing Linda Hess whose book Bodies of Hope was being released. I imagine that it probably needs a burning desire to get experiences transformed into words. For Hess it did appear a bit of that when she spoke of her experiences understanding, translating and journeying through places where Kabir’s couplets are remembered and performed. That seemed reasonable. But how often is it that such a burning desires takes over and the written form begins taking shape as fast as a moth turns butterfly? I can hardly count such instances in my life!
The impetus that I find a bit more identifiable is Gorky’s description from a classic essay he writes on How I Learnt to Write. He describes in the essay the moments when he writes to “get things off my chest”. That is an identifiable state and real in terms of possibility of the situation. He writes,
There were moments of torment from the tension within me, moments when a lump stood in my throat and I wanted to cry out that my friend Anatoly, a glass-blower, was a lad of talent but would perish if no help were forthcoming; that the street-walker Theresa was a fine person and it was unjust that she was a prostitute, which was something the students who visited her did not see, just as they did not see that the old woman Matista, who begged for a living, had far more brains than the young and well-read accoucheuse Yakovleva.
The burdened state of mind to let it out and write about the experiences, the upsetting asymmetries and ironies of life does have a profound effect on those who think the written word would be a partial relief from having lived such experiences. I do recollect bursts of lines that begin foaming up in my mind often as I coast through days in everyday life.
This is where the next part kicks in – the lack of skill and the torment there of. The words begin feeling inadequate. The feel of the writing too fluffy and posturing at worse. That is when the keyboard crackle stops. Escape from this rut? I haven’t found a way yet. But the raw material keeps flowing in from daily experiences. However, the writer can try to be cognizant of this dynamic and keep on with his work as Gorky did.
Until one has perfects the discipline to get down to a desk and plod through the task of writing, the realm of desire, drive or urge to write seems a reasonable way out. The bursts of writing or such binges appears to be a rather reasonable path to such discipline. As I write this, I have a largish report from an earlier field-work to be written. Also sitting still are the diary entries from the road-trips taken in the past two months. None of them have gotten anywhere for the want of the drive to get them down in words. It isn’t always the proverbial procrastination. Several of those times when I do not write it is about the want of a entry into that diffuse spread of observations and corresponding thoughts that streamed through. To this I recall, Joan Didion’s remarkable ability to write Year of Magical Thinking soon after losing her family. That is a tremendous ability, to write as one is grieving.
My travel notebooks sit piled up while I wade through scattered thoughts and read works by these authors. I guess that “urge” to write is an unfaithful thing. More often one needs to just sit down and start typing the mental chatter out. This is what I am doing this morning.