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What am I allowed to write about?

The unthinkable has happened. A writer friend, who I feel particularly close to, has told me that he doesn’t think he wants to write any more. It opened up a whole can of conflict in me when he told me, the first reason being - is that a choice that you can make? I was under the impression that writing was a calling or a vocation, or something else that sounds like a massive clichĂ©, rather than something that you can stop and start at will. My second issue arose when he explained why…

I’m paraphrasing, but he said something along the lines of:

I’m tired of only writing when I feel shit about something. Writing used to be something that I really enjoyed but it seems to have turned into something that I do when I feel like a complete mess and I need an outlet. That’s the only stuff I ever write down these days and I don’t know that that’s a good approach to have, so I feel like I should get out of it.

It brought up a lot of further questions, with the old favourite ‘why do you write’ query raising its ugly head on more than one occasion.

While I wasn’t convinced that not writing would be the answer to my friend’s problem, I did sort of understand why it seemed like it might be at least a temporary remedy for him. After all, I used to do exactly what he does. I used to wait until I was experiencing one extreme emotional state or another - I was usually feeling extremely in love with someone or extremely let down by them, in my emo days of writing - and then I’d put pen to paper and let the emotion flow out of me and into the mould of a poem, which I’d then publish to some online forum or another… like that would seriously help my problems. Sharing that shit with the world.

Admittedly, it’s not a brilliant habit to have, but it’s also a crazy difficult habit to break simply because everyone needs an outlet for when life gets a bit too much for them. I suppose the problem with your outlet being writing, or painting, or something else that results in some kind of creation at the end of it, is that when you’re finished you have to look back on that and you remember the (hurtful) motivation behind every line, rhyme, brushstroke, so on…

Now, getting a bit introspective here so brace yourselves. Two people have upset me a fair bit in the day two days. Two totally different people who don’t know each other, have nothing to do with each other, they don’t know that they’ve upset me or that anyone else has upset me. The reason they upset me - I’ll give you the cliff notes, because I don’t want to be that introspective - is because they’ve turned to me with problems that I’ve tried to help them with and it’s resulted in my head being, metaphorically, ripped off. I was snapped out or dismissed or belittled or, thanks to one of them, completely spoken down to - something that this friend actually used to be quite in the habit of doing, and it seems that he’s re-adopting it now while he’s going through whatever quarter-life-crisis he’s experiencing. That’s fine. You have stuff to deal with. It’s cool, really. But now, thanks to this, I have stuff to deal with too.

So should I write about it?

Well, I don’t know whether I should or not, but I haven’t. When I turned my laptop on this afternoon to get some work done, I had a fairly strong feeling that I would end up writing something about it - which I suppose, in this very blog post, I sort of have - but writing about them in prose produces something much tamer than writing about them in poetry. So I suppose I’ve chosen the lesser of two potentially creative evils.

The point I’m trying to get to here, in my very arse about face fashion, is whether there are certain things that we should or shouldn’t write about. I think I might have discussed creative and intellectual property of writers before now - or, if I haven’t, then I definitely meant to. I’ve often been from the school of thought that your experiences are your own, and yes, they involve other people, but that shouldn’t impact on how you use those experiences in your life and in your work. Now, to a certain extent I still agree with that, so maybe my question of whether there are certain things you can and can’t write about is more self-motivated than it is anything else. If someone has upset you enough to make you need some kind of emotional outlet, then I wouldn’t worry about them too much at this stage. My big concern, however, and the concern that I hold on to when I’m about to write about something upsetting is: Do I want to remember this? Do I want to be reminded that this happened? And, finally, how do I feel about letting other people know that this happened, and letting them know that this is how I felt at the time?

Admittedly, there was a time when the first thing on my to-do list following an argument, break-up, or just a bad day, was to jump on my laptop and write it down. However, speaking from experience, everything felt ten times worse when I found the stuff that I’d written six months later…

Plus, it turns out that in my hurricane of love poems and break-up verse that I’ve written over the years, I’ve wasted some truly brilliant lines of poetry on so-called muses or sources of inspiration who really didn‘t deserve it. But I think that’s a separate issue altogether.

I’m not sure where the closing question lies here, to be honest. What can you write about? Do you own all of your experiences, or do you share them with the people who experienced them with you? And, if that’s the case, are you at liberty to write about those things, or do you need some kind of written permission from people who may or may not be mentioned in your work at some point? Do your emotional encounters with people, romantic or otherwise, deserve to be written down? And, even if they deserve it, are you sure you want them to be written down? The questions never really end when it comes to this, which is both the beauty and frustration of discussing this area.

Nevertheless, I think on the topic of what we write about, why we write about those things, and whether those things are worthy of being written about; if you need to write it, you want to write, and you feel capable of writing it… then yes, it’s always, always, worth writing about.


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