“I do not think one can assess a writer’s motives without knowing something of his early development. . . before he ever begins to write he will have acquired an emotional attitude from which he will never completely escape.”
George Orwell in Why I Write
I remember the first story I ever wrote.
It lacked most of what makes a narrative. It was a deeply linear, almost stream-of-consciousness-style account of the life of five children living on a farm – undoubtedly a not-so-funky, highly plagiarised remix of every Enid Blyton story my seven-year-old self had ever read. In early schooling, we learn that stories have a beginning, some sort of middle complication and a resolution. This particular story had none of that; it was a “ghastly failure“, to borrow George Orwell’s astute description of his own early writing.
Nothing happened in this farm tale. It was a pure ‘world’ experience rather any sort of character or plot development, crisis or arc of any kind.
I’ve come to recognise it as a form of departure.
George Orwell tossed together a collection of anecdotes about his early writing practice in his essay Why I Write (1946).
As a result of reading this essay, and conversations I took part in last week, it dawned on me that my life may have known I was a writer before I did.
When I was in year two, at a parent-teacher interview, my teacher told my mother I had what Orwell refers to as “a facility with words”; she’d picked this up after I’d written a rhetorical question on an acrostic poem I’d written about a snowman. How one small question mark was an indicator of this I really don’t understand, but nevertheless, I think that in hindsight this was the first time ‘writer’ was loosely stuck on me as an identity.
‘Writer’ became a word that crept into my mind when I was asked to describe myself at this point in my life and it never went away, despite the many times my writing identity shifted and paused.
In year seven, we had to reiterate a Banjo Patterson poem, The Man from Snowy River, into a newspaper article as a creative exercise. My English teacher told me I’d make a good journalist. I believed him until my first year of university when I actually took a journalism class, and I realised it wasn’t for me. Writing would have to take another form, one which wasn’t restricted to covering blase local events (yes, my lack of patience only took me through one journalism class: news journalism), 10-word headlines and a strict ‘inverted pyramid’ structure of writing that felt like the embodiment of being strangled.
At the top of this page, I wrote that departure was perhaps the quiet objective of the happy streams of consciousness I penned as a young girl.
I listened to a lecture once where a speaker told of people who identified as die-hard fans of a novel or film but were dissatisfied with the plot and not fond of the characters. Rather, they experienced that interface for the joy it gave them to delve into the universe it constructed.
As I ricocheted between houses, identities, and (I dare say) personalities in darker days when the shadow man was less of a shadow, I’d crawl back to the pages of the Harry Potter novels every time I needed to leave my mind – not to enjoy Harry, not for any character, nor plot distraction or any aesthetic experience. It was the stony fireplaces and cosy armchairs squashed into the Gryffindor common room that made me feel safe. I certainly adore the characters and believe the plot is masterful, but it’s the euphoria of walking through the ancient walls of Hogwarts, admiring the rusting suits of armour on display through corridors, the smell of home-cooked meals wafting from the kitchens, and the child-like sense of adventure that still ignites in me every time I open those pages, that is adept at catching me when I need it.
If I ever write something (for real), I’ll strive to make a world that encompasses that warmth and comfort. Maybe this is why I was drawn to writing; maybe this is why I write today.
I used to rely on writing as a vessel for escape. Now I’m doing the opposite; using words to collate and develop a cohesive understanding of the stories I’ll be collecting (not the right word, but it’ll sit here until I do know the correct one) for my research.