Added: Friday 24th November, 2017
Writing as an Act of Kindness - a Manifesto by Dean Atta
Dean wrote this month’s blog as a manifesto inspired by International Day of Kindness and he invites you to send him your own manifesto about why you write.
I wrote this month’s blog as a manifesto inspired by International Day of Kindness, which was on Monday 13th November 2017. We marked the day at New Writing South with a Be Kind sign in our window and by tweeting quotes from Post-it notes we collected from our friends who wrote kind words for us to share. Also that day, I was leading a workshop in a school and I asked the students to write what kindness meant to them. I loved writing this. I hope you enjoy reading it.
I would love to hear your thoughts on this topic. If you feel like writing your own manifesto about why you write, please send it to me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I will add some of my favourites to this blog post. They can be written in any style but a maximum length of 400 words.
Writing as an Act of Kindness - a Manifesto by Dean Atta
I write as an act of kindness to myself first and foremost. Before any reader or audience, imagined or real, I must write what I need to read. I must ask how each piece of writing will make me kinder, more compassionate. I must ask how each piece of writing might make my reader or audience kinder. The kindness in writing is bringing people closer; crossing identity and geographical borders. Being black and queer does not make me an authority on blackness or queerness. Being me makes me an authority on me. My kindness to myself is to allow myself and my imagination to exist on the page, unapologetically. My kindness to my reader or audience is to allow them to see me, my imagination and perhaps themselves in what I write. When a reader or audience do not see themselves in what I write, I intend for them to see a possibility to move beyond themselvesand see from another perspective. This is an act of kindest on their part. All writing is an invitation to move beyond oneself. Moving beyond is not to forget, ignore or deny but to remember, acknowledge and accept the position and privilege I hold, whilst I challenge and question it, always with kindness to myself and others. I will read and listen with kindness too. I mustremember that I can afford to be kind while others are angrier, more desperate and disenfranchised. Whilst I believe kindness is always an option for a writer, I may be wrong. I amallowed to be wrong. I am allowed to change my mind. I am allowed to forgive myself when I am not kind. My writing is not just ‘my writing’, not only polished poetry or prose; every email, text message and social media post has the potential to be an act of kindness. Sophia, a 12 year old student in a workshop I led wrote: “An act of kindness can start with a post-it note.” Whether an affirmation, manifesto, poetry and prose, whatever the medium, the method will be kindness.
Why I Write - John McCullogh
Because I'm no good at anything else. Because my first drafts prove I'm no good at writing and I clearly need to spend a bit more time on it before this all gets horribly embarrassing. Because I read a beautiful poem today. Because I read a really annoying poem today and now I want to tell the other side of the story. Because I know nothing about the world but wish to record a small portion of my astonishment. Because I need to find something true. Because I like lying. Because as a child I was involved in a tragic accident involving an inflatable elephant and I have never quite recovered. Because I enjoy asking myself questions. Because one day I will read out a poem and there will be applause and fainting and someone is so overwhelmed they present me with a giant cake. Because I can't resist probing the corners of my mind when I'm alone. Because I love getting out of the goddamn house to swap work with writer friends. Because one day I am going to die and I would like to leave some little parts of me behind. Because while I'm alive I want to send a message from inside this private skin suit to the inside of someone else's. Because I. Because you.
A Reminder to the Writer - Allie Rogers
Write because there’s no way on earth you can stop. Write when it feels like sobbing and dropping things and making love and throwing up and slamming doors off their hinges. Write when it’s far too late. Write before it’s really time at all. Write polite, contrite, considered and tight. To achieve the stated aim. Write to ice it all up in fondant. Write to dip it in lime. Write to strip it right back to the bones and then further. Until all you have is the hint of it. On your tongue. At your fingertips. And no-one even knows. Write. Write to big it up and blow its trumpet and flatter it in a golden cloak. Write when reluctant. Write when ashamed. Write when ridiculed. When mocked, scorned or scalded. Write then, every time. Write when heavy. When the words of the world have curled themselves tight in your head and they’re pulsing and affecting your balance. Write when alone. Write, inappropriately, in boring company. Write in your head when necessary. Write on bits of paper of any size. Or devices. Write devices. And desires. Write in the ways they tell you not to. Sometimes. Write yourself taller. Write yourself rich. Write yourself kinder, and sweeter and warmer. Then write yourself a vicious and evil *****. Write in silence. Write against the tide. Write under the covers. Write with your chin up. Write with a glint in your eye.
Why I Write - Jackie Wills
I write to see what words can do. Not just where they can take me, but what they can make.
I write to pass time and to get lost in time, to go into hiding and for the lightness I feel when I emerge.
I write to travel in time.
I write hoping for surprises - a line, a solution, solution being the watery, tricky element and the line being a way into that element.
I write as part of a conversation with all the poets writing now and the dead ones, to recite noisily, or read silently.
I write to give thanks to people I meet and to places that one day will no longer exist as I know them.
I am writing more elegies for friends. They are the funeral horses waiting at the gates of the cemetery.
I write poems for birthdays.
I write about saggy skin and grey hair to accept menopause and ageing.
I write to understand love.
I Write Because I Have No Choice - Mark O’Loughlin
I write because I have no choice. I write for pleasure. I write even when I don’t want to. I write because it’s supposed to be fun. I write because it’s how I make sense of the world. I write against things. I write for things. I write to ask for money. I write shopping lists: broccoli, coffee, orange juice and honey. I write trying to be funny. I write to share stories. I write to explain. I write to complain. If I didn’t, who knows what might happen? I write slowly. I write quickly. I write badly. I write goodly. I write to brag (I was the first in my class at primary school to get a ballpoint pen as my handwriting was so neat). I write stupid poems on Facebook. I write novels too short to be novels. I write short stories even though I rarely read short stories. I write because the current political landscape is so depressing. I write because the best writers make it look so easy and it’s really SO difficult. I write to become a better writer and you should too. As I say, I write because I have no choice.
Why Do I Write? - Maria Jastrzębska
Why do I write? Right at this very moment? A squirrel is balancing on a branch in the tall, bare trees I can see from my window. Reason enough. (Red or grey? The same squirrel I saw yesterday or another one? Certainly not the first or last squirrel running across the page, just the one here, today.) Apart from that I have always written. I wrote my first book (appropriately called ‘My Book’) before I was properly literate in either of my two languages, Polish or English. It was full of squiggles. I carried it with me everywhere. I imagine I found it a powerful act to create meanings for myself, to make my mark however clumsy or misshapen. As a child I was drawn to secret codes, loved the idea of sending messages in a bottle: the idea that someone on a distant shore could read my message, that I could reach beyond myself, beyond my own world. As a teenager writing was a way of making something out of all the angst, though I soon discovered it was even better than that. There was the sheer joy of transforming raw material into something else, the thrill of that alchemy.
I love telling stories. I love starting out, thinking I know where I am going and then finding another story or idea hidden in the one I thought I was writing. Poetry claimed me. Why? Maybe because, although it’s so specific to any language (its rhythms, diction, syntax, idioms) at the same time – at its best – it transcends individual language, reaching something universal and expressing what can’t be said. It deals in the ephemeral or even unspeakable. When I get anywhere near that, it’s the biggest excitement, exaltation. Getting to that point is so full of frustration and doubt I often feel like giving up and wonder myself why I write. Love-hate? I write when I shouldn’t (like the poems I wrote instead of handing in my history and geography O-level papers). I don’t write when I ought to be writing. Procrastinate expertly (like most writers I know). I write when asked to – so thank you Dean Atta for asking why I write. And I have never stopped hoping someone on a distant shore, whether close by or far away, will read what I have written. If they do, I promise to mention squirrels again.
Why I Write - Tessa Ditner
I love great stories. I love that people can recount something and you laugh because of the way they tell it. Their unique rhythm and stance is their personality distilled, as if you’d bottled them. Your friend, your sister, your mum, your dad turned into human Chanel n5s.
To be a professional storyteller. How wonderful! When I was younger the best medium seemed to be music. Lyrics, particularly pop. I loved Michael Jackson, then Britney. Music videos were my childhood espressos.
But to be honest my favourite songs weren’t the ones with interesting lyrics, but the ones with that make you twerk in the broccoli aisle of Waitrose. I genuinely love the song Rude Boy by Rihanna even though its best lyrics is: ‘giddy up giddy up giddy up’.
Paint seemed the next best storytelling tool. My art school interview was horrible. I was honest while going through my portfolio. I told the story of each painting. The tutor kept correcting me: ‘So you want to paint ordinary objects?’
‘This one is about the light,’ I repeated.
The fact that there was a bed leg and a chair leg was incidental to the point of the painting. It was about South Africa’s brilliant, glorious and frankly quite sexy morning light. I get that if I had painted a naked man I can understand why he would have focused on the object rather than the light, but surely making the center of the painting the floor, made it clear that the focus was the light not the thing the light was bouncing off?
It made it easy to accept the offer at the MA in Creative Writing. Perhaps words would be easier to paint with. Besides, isn’t an artwork only really one thought repeating itself forever? Even Tracey Emin’s My Bed tells a lot of stories, but visually, it is just one still life: a still life with the apple and vase replaced by a condom wrapper and a pair of slippers, but still just a still life.
It seems that storytellers can’t get away from some limitation.
Screenwriters have all sorts of limitations, from the collaborative nature of the beast to budgets or potential advertising revenue. Poets are limited by shortness and perhaps word-prettiness. Journalists are limited by the truth. Perhaps novelists are the freest kind, perhaps that’s why it is such an exciting medium.