Why would anyone choose to be an artist? Why would you spend your time doing something with no pay and few prospects; producing work which no-one appreciates or wants to publish, expending time and effort in improving what you do, trying to get it right, trying to create the perfect story or poem or novel, trying to dig out what is in you and express it in the best way you can – why would anyone bother? And yet from time immemorial people have done this, often at great cost to themselves. Stories of starving artists abound – Van Gogh sold only one painting in his lifetime, Jane Austen only published two novels before she died and was treated with contempt by her publisher – and those are just a couple of examples off the top of my head.
Why then? The answer is simple: you do it because you must. Before I became a writer I had no idea what was bugging me. I was dissatisfied and bored, and most of the time I felt utterly frustrated. As a young person I interpreted this in terms of sex and relationships; it was only later that I began to realise it was something else entirely. Plus, I had so many experiences that I couldn’t explain: I obsessed about details; I tried endlessly to work out why so-and-so had said such-and-such or why someone had looked at me in a certain way. I thought and thought about problems until I found a solution, even if that solution didn’t seem relevant to my life in any way: I was simply compelled to find an answer, in the same way as Mark is deeply uncomfortable not knowing something and is compelled to look it up. So I lie awake at night obsessing about the direction feminism is taking, or what we do about work and money as a society, or how to achieve harmony between different religious groups, just as if I were the Premier of a country and charged with solving these problems.
Basically I am only happy when I write. If it’s going well and I feel I’ve nailed something, writing is what gives my life meaning: in the end, I can’t live without it. So even if everything else goes to pot I’ll be OK so long as I can write.
I wish it could be easier. I wish I could be like other people and fit in; be happy doing something ordinary. I wish I was one of those writers who could work Monday to Friday and write at the weekend. Why aren’t I one of those writers?
Are you normal? If so, how do you manage it? This is of course a question no-one can answer – it’s like asking people how they manage to have blond hair or green eyes. You can’t help it.
And neither can I.