Why They Write

Why They Write

Pieter Claesz: Still Life with a Skull and a Writing Quill

Literature │Why They Write
Zehra Mustafa

(published in “Avrupa” newspaper)

What is it that makes a person pick up a pen, or flip open the lid of their trusty laptop? Is it pure egotism and the simple desire to be famous? Maybe it is the thought that when they are no longer a part of this mortal coil, that something that they had created would live on forever. What is the driving force that impels the writer, the artist, the creator to take it into their hands, and to make it their duty to share their beliefs and vision with the rest of humanity?
It was in the eighteenth century that the modern novel began to evolve, but it was in the nineteenth century with Dickens’ Pickwick Papers when there was a real movement away from the picaresque form. Poetry became less popular which gave way to prose, the people wanted to read and with high demand for knowledge, the common man began to learn how. Along with the agricultural revolution, the industrial revolution and the scientific revolution, education became paramount and in swept the written word to the masses. It became the writers duty to awaken those around them, to let others know and understand what their visions held, varying from Thomas Paine’s The Rights of Man to Virginia Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own, in which she challenges our thoughts on the relationship that women have with writing. Sometimes one has to look deeper to find a meaning in the text, yet other times, it is staring right at you begging to be acknowledged, and the sad fact is that most of the time the message does not get across in the life time of the artist. William Blake, one of the greatest writers and artist to have lived, died in destitution, having being ridiculed most of his life, but now, his visions of Urizen in shackles and his words in The Tyger live on.

Therefore, the question is, what is it that kept writers such as Blake going? Maybe it is a deep need and sense of duty to form human contact in a way that they know how, and our desire to take a hold of the written word and become one with it. As an alert audience, we had a strong hunger for art and began to question the very function of it. Woolf even wrote an essay entitled “How Should One Read a Book?” in which she writes, “ …books are to be found in almost every room of the house…But in some houses they have to be accommodated with a room of their own – a reading room; a library, a study.” Somehow the book itself has become a life force of its own, forcing people to acknowledge its power and presence. After all, if they did not have such power, then why would the existence of “book burning” dating all the ways back to 213 BC by the first emperor of China have come about? Woolf also states that the act of reading itself is not as simple as knowing the alphabet and many of us know this to be true the first time that we tackle out first Shakespeare or Chaucer. Words become almost magical, as if they carry a charge that has the ability to put tremendous fear into man which they do not know how to control, therefore they must destroy it. But let’s not think about its destructiveness; let’s focus on its abilities. With each genre and form of writing, whether it is poetry, prose play, fiction, history, biography and so on, as readers we access a different part of ourselves. We are able to move as human beings with our minds in ways that our bodies could never handle. One minute we are able to carry out the role of detective in a Sherlock Holmes saga and in the next we are not only an audience of a play, but sitting right there on the stage which for the most of us is far more affordable then attending the theatre in person.

The art of reading allows us to take on many guises, transporting us into utterly different settings no matter where we are, whether we are on the bus going to work, or in our beds before the lights go out. It is off course the writer who holds the key to another world in which they are granting us a passage into, and they know that they are the ultimate suppliers of a drug that most of us can not get enough of. Many of us are thankful to Jane Austen for taking it into her own secretive hands, to create the greatest recipe and guideline for a good romance novel, which is still being used today; you have to look no further then Fielding’s Bridget Jones’s Diary to know that the Austen fever will never die. We have to also be thankful to the great satirical Oscar Wilde for creating some of the most hilarious and controversial plays, and not only that, he literally, single handily created the concept of the celebrity status. Both Wilde and Austen showed the true nature of society and the ugliness that should not remain hidden, Zola does this for the French, whilst Dostoevsky does this for the Russian, portraying the many facets of society.

Writers write not only to transport us into another realm, they also act as shamans and seers, trying to warn us of our own downfalls as seen in Orwell’s Animal Farm and Nineteen Eighty-Four and Huxley’s Brave New World, making us aware of hushed up truths and to question the governments that lull us into a deafening silence. The writer writes because when all else fails, and they do not have any other use at anything else, they are at least able to reach out and touch us in a way that no other can. With each reader, every written word has a rebirth, prolonging their life which changes with every twist and turn, and that is why they continue to write. As readers, we should consider this last bit of advice offered up by Virginia Woolf. “To read a book well, one should read it as if one were writing it. Begin not by sitting on the bench among the judges but by standing in the dock with the criminal. Be his fellow worker, become his accomplice.”

© Zehra Mustafa

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