All in WRITING

As International Women’s Day reminds us of the battles still being fought in the seemingly interminable quest for parity in all aspects of social, cultural, political and economic life, the likes of Smith, Didion, Lorna Sage, Siri Hustvedt, Susan Sontag (the list goes on) are testament to the strength and inestimable value of the female voice.

“Feminism is about repairing and imagining a new way of changing the world.  It is not a set of demands, it’s about who we are,” in the words of activist and journalist Beatrix Campbell. Such a compelling call to action is surely something that we can all sign up to, isn’t it? The rallying cry for new social constructs and better political representation that is about the people, for the people.  The trouble is, too many of those terms are fluid, undefined and susceptible to manipulation if not misinterpretation – politics, identity, community, feminism.  Is it any wonder that we don’t know who we are or what we stand for, never mind knowing if we’re there yet?

If days are where we live our lives then stories are where we remember them.  Whether fact or fiction, the telling of tales is one of the most compelling ways to chart journeys and worlds discovered by people Other than ourselves. As children, we relish fairy tales that introduce us to the concept of morality and allow us to invest hope and expectation in imaginary people and their adventures. 

The question of what motivates and inspires writers has enduring appeal for anyone eager to pursue the creative life. It also reveals some fascinating insights from which anyone can benefit. We all have a story to tell, as individuals, organisations, communities, societies, businesses. And just like any story, if it’s interesting enough and told well, people will listen.

“Culture is perishing in over-production, in an avalanche of words, in the madness of quantity.” If days are where we live our lives then stories are where we remember them.  And tonight is apparently the night to seek sanctuary, solace, escape and wonder in one story selected from 20.  

For anyone who’s ever harboured a perverse, semi-intellectual fetish for stationery, there is no substitute for the crisp, clean greeting that is the opening page of a new notebook. It’s easy to romanticise the humble pen and paper in an age when digital communication is taking over the world.  There’s no arguing with how computers have propelled productivity - the internet is flooded with an infinite tirade of verbiage.  But is this necessarily a good thing?

The phrase “blue sky thinking” litters conversations these days, the supposition being that it will prompt radical new ideas to flutter through. But rather than sparking the imagination, the call for forced creativity can invoke dread.  And rightly so; as Orwell pointed out, this kind of inane management speak is a deliberate distortion of reality.

Based on the advice of writers from Stephen King to David Foster Wallace, Susan Sontag, Henry Miller, Zadie Smith and many more, when I cannot write my designated daily quota of 500 words on one subject, I turn to reading.  I scour the net, my bookshelves and every local bookshop, in search of inspiration, thirsty for facts that might ultimately furnish each of my projects with added authenticity.

Documenting the past comes with a frightening number of challenges that at times beg the question, why bother?  With historical writing, the challenges are even more pronounced, particularly the lack of people and sources against which to check your facts.  Depending on how you look at it, it’s either the greatest investigative adventure or a guaranteed route to sleepless nights as the unknown quantities swirl around your tormented mind.

Whether you’re a journalist, a fiction writer, a biographer, a marketer or a corporate PR pro, the art of telling a good story will invariably lie at the heart of what you do.  Attracting the attention of your audience and then holding them captive is an invaluable skill.  Stories that inspire, inform, entertain and move are undoubtedly the best way to engage with people and make an impression.

Memories are the defining feature of human identity.  They underlie the decisions that help determine our future, they colour our reflections on the past, and they characterise our life stories.  But our headspace is notoriously fluid, susceptible to damage, change and loss.   The stories that we weave together from what we can recall, while an inimitable gateway into our personalities, are not entirely true.