i write for myself and strangers

The title up there isn’t mine; it belongs to Gertrude Stein. I picked up a copy of Gertude Stein’s ‘The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas’ during a pilgrimage to Shakespeare and Co.

I’d imagine most would read that and could change the verb for just about anything that represents them in the world. It’s easy to think it only applies to writers because they don’t shut the fuck up, writing everything down so that, in history, it’s like theirs’ were the only thoughts ever had in mankind.

Having bought the book to keep the Parisian bohemian fantasy going back here in Manchester, I finished it and wondered at the point of a biography. I’ve no doubt the real Gertrude Stein was on every page of that book, and that Paris was precisely like that (to her) before the Second World War, but I could only question what she got out of it. As a reader I was well-fed and saw the world through her eyes, thinking of it with the colour of her voice, and so the book’s existence is pure and perfect in all that a book should be and do for another person who reads it. But for Gertrude, who writes for herself and strangers, I’m wondering what writing it did for her.

Gertrude Stein by Picasso
Gertrude Stein by Picasso

It’s not something I’m going to pretend to try and answer now as it seems the kind of question only answered after it’s over. That said, I’ve heard it put that the best way to get over a person is to turn them to fiction. I wonder if that’s why writers write biographies, and some keep journals like life lines, so that they can turn it all into words with ink – lest the things that have happened ever be more than fiction.

At the moment, one of the various bastards I’m working on, Ode to the Riff Raff, is the story of an organ grinder and his monkey trying to remember where he fit in the world before he died. Nearing the end of the first draft, I’m in the familiar territory of cancelling plans, rushing back from wherever else I’ve been like it’s a puppy left alone without being house-trained, neglected and shitting in the flat. The subject of who a writer writes for, a singer sings for, a fighter fights for, came to mind after I was asked the other day if I was working to a deadline. They meant was a publisher was waiting for it, which they’re not – this bastard’s an orphan for the next few weeks. But, in the habit of making War and Peace of every detail of the day, I realised I couldn’t answer the question of what or who it – or anything I’ve written – is for.

I’d assumed once it would have been for¬†some¬†vague delusion of fame or fortune, which arguably lurked in the back of my head in the beginning but, if a palm reading told me all that would never happen, I’m certain many writers would still be there, unsung, harbouring an iCloud of orphaned ink worlds. Noel Gallagher once said something about critics saying his songs all abided by a framework his fans all knew, and he couldn’t see it as a bad thing. Instead he talked about how full of shit the artists were that say they don’t make music for sales, that they should be doing and that if they weren’t there was no point leaving their mom’s garages if it was only ever meant to be for their personal sense of artistic fulfilment. I’m paraphrasing, obviously – between you and me, I think I made that Noel Gallagher thing up and have just been saying it over and over until I decided it happened. Sounds like something he’d say though… and it might explain why Oasis songs do have the same chord progression in nearly all of them.

So it’s with reasoning like this, beyond some undiagnosed OCD, why I write. And, yeah, I’d get less than nothing from someone I knew telling me they’d read something I’d written – the critique usually revolving around the notion it had to biographical in some way, or about them. If a complete stranger found something worth taking from something I’d written, mind, I’d probably love it.

You write for yourself, then. But is this not something everyone does, whatever their passion? Bruised are the lads and lasses at the end of sparring who’ve been fighting because they followed, heartbroken are the ones who’ve love in vain, listless are the people wasting time being idle because those around them don’t have dreams. You can apply that to most sports; a person could reap the health benefits of running every day, but without meaning there is nothing but spent time. If spending time is all that there is to a day, my budget would still go on typing words.

Though I doubt he turned down as many pints as me to write instead, the great man puts it in a way that suits me just fine. Ignore the fact it’s Bono reciting it…

I blog because of the times, but I write because I have to. What do you write for?

JB

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