Monday, March 8, 2010

The Writer’s (Secret) Dilemma

One of the aspects of being a writer that I used to find very disconcerting was the way I could detach just enough of myself to write about experiences I was having, even while suffering.

One instance is particularly vivid and I felt guilty about it for years. It was after my sister had died and I was in my house, alone and utterly distraught. She was the person with whom I had grown up and her death had been sudden and unexpected. Yet I found myself writing down what it felt like to be inside my grief, inside my body and my head, at that moment; it was such an overwhelming emotion and I couldn’t handle it and yet I tried to describe it on paper. I thought I must be the coldest fish in the sea, and yet the suffering was utterly, gut wrenchingly real.

But I’ve come to realise that this is what writers do. We capture and try to translate every experience, not always at the time or even near to the time they happen – sometimes it’s not possible for many reasons - but at some point we will write about it, if only for ourselves. It’s our way of understanding the world and of fulfilling our role as writers and living up to the demands of that gift. We didn’t ask for it. It’s part of who we are.

Today I found this quote that explains this all better than I can.

"Powers of observation beyond the normal imply extraordinary disinvolvement: or rather the double process, excessive preoccupation and identification with the lives of others, and at the same time a monstrous detachment... The tensions between standing apart and being fully involved: that is what makes a writer." – Nadine Gordimer, Introduction, Selected Stories.

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