I am a writer. That was one of my conclusions when I left The Guardian’s offices recently. I had attended a masterclass by my favourite journalist/columnist, Gary Younge. Gary turned out to be a very engaging facilitator, even if I felt star-struck at the beginning and therefore found it difficult to concentrate. Very few times I am reduced to the role of weepy groupie who has just met her music idol, but that was me the first quarter of an hour. Minus the weeping.
I came away from the masterclass with a few conclusions. The first one was that it is OK to be egocentric as a writer. In fact, in a very subtle way, Younge encouraged his audience to go for a certain type of healthy solipsism. In talking about his family, especially his mother, Gary rendered our own personal stories universal. We all share a relative who is slightly awkward, overweight, eccentric, and at the same time lovable, trustworthy and enterprising.
The second conclusion I took from the workshop was that we writers are privileged. We get not only to experience the occasional, unique moment in history but also to capture it and transform it into a piece of art. An aesthetic truth can be expressed in non-fiction as well as or sometimes better than in fiction.
The third conclusion was the raison d’être of writing. Why write? Because I exist as a human being first and as many other mutations after. And each of these layers feels the need to leave traces of their existence behind. That, in a sense, is the essence of writing. To give a platform to each of these identity markers in order to share a truth with the world. Sometimes in a fictionalised way. Sometimes veracity-driven. Each of these layers makes up and contributes to my writer’s output and constitution. I exist, therefore I write. Or vice versa.
I mentioned the writer’s solipsistic nature before. A caveat, though. It may be our voice doing all the singing but we still play with a full backing band. The combination of these two elements, the writer’s (inner) motivation and the influence of her/his surroundings on their work, gives us a vivid and rich tableau vivant of the writer’s inner world and the way it interacts with the outer one. That’s the fourth conclusion.
The fifth conclusion involves the blank page or the act of killing it. Bump the blank off the page as soon as you can. Your draft should materialise within minutes, because we always have something to say (write).
Sixth and last conclusion: writing is never lineal. Your story has a thesis. It also has an antithesis. The job is to combine both to come up with a synthesis. Writing that takes place in an echo chamber is not writing. It’s self-congratulatory, back-slapping, flat-lining drivel. Write in order to challenge yourself. Only by pushing the boundaries of what we know, as far as possible, do we start to scratch, barely scratch the surface of our human condition.