At this time of year I do a certain amount of teaching. One of the things that always strikes me is the preconceptions that people bring to the courses. As one student put it when I asked him why he was there, ”Creative writing is a form of writing that has no restrictions and that’s exactly what I’m looking for – no restrictions.” Unfortuately for him, that’s not what I’m teaching. I’m only interested in writing for an audience so, actually, the restrictions are what it’s all about.
So much nonsense seems to be believed about writing. On a social web site designed for aspiring writers I recently saw this post that really summed it all up: “Writing is not what I do. A writer is what I am. Share if you agree.” Frankly, that’s ridiculous. If you don’t write, you’re not a writer – period. Being a writer isn’t some sort of abstract state, like being a saint.
In my experience writing is like raising children. There’s lots of work to do and a lot of boundaries to set if you want to get the job done properly. Of course, if you choose to bring your children up without any rules then that’s entirely up to you. Just don’t bring them anywhere near me while you’re doing it.
At the moment one of my grandchildren is being potty-trained. Or perhaps it would be more accurate to say he’s not being potty-trained. His mother is beside herself at the lack of progress. I’m a little more philosophical about it. She would say that’s because I only look after him for two days a week and, of course that’s true. But it’s also true that this is not my first time clearing up poo. I spent a lot of years doing it. And fifty per cent of that poo was hers. So I’ve seen poo come and I’ve seen it go and I think my grandson will get his act together in his own time.
I was reflecting on this as I lay awake in the early hours of this morning (something I have in common with my grandchildren is that we both wake up too early.) I was feeling very pleased with myself, applauding my ability to look at the matter objectively, when suddenly a terrible thought struck me. Maybe the person who posted that comment on the site was right. Maybe it’s not what you do that counts, maybe it’s how you define yourself. So perhaps poo is not what I clear up, after all. Perhaps it’s what I am.