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Why do we keep writing – and what happens to all those words, words, words?

‘Why do we do it?’ a new writer wants to know. ‘Honestly, Shelley, here I am pouring out words, words, words – attending courses, being mentored, slaving away every moment I can in my quest to shape those words into fiction. What for? What’s my compulsion all about?’

I nod sagely, playing for time. But truly I’m gripped by the same mad addiction. I think of all my blog posts, several hundred thousand words of fiction, many thousands more of feedback to the fiction of others – and wonder where the obsessive verbiage comes from and where it all goes.

‘We’re creating stories, shaping lives, creating order out of chaos,’ I begin, but even as I speak I can’t help thinking about all the millions of nouns and adjectives and subjunctive clauses – mine and others – contributing to a huge linguistic fug. Sometimes I wonder when, like the recycling of household waste, I’ll receive a stern letter from Islington Council compelling me to sort, for the environment’s sake, the figurative wheat from the metaphoric chaff.

Imagine it: several coloured boxes placed beneath every writer’s desk, each labelled to contain a category of recoverable debris. Redundant phrases. Empty adverbs. Stories that seemed a good idea at the time but simply didn’t make the cut. Letters unsent for the very good reason that they should never have been written. Whole novels that have plummeted and crashed.

But that’s depressing. And it doesn’t address the roots of New Writer’s irresistible urge.

‘We do it out of hope,’ I say at last. ‘We hope that by some miracle our words will reach an empathetic ear and evoke an ‘aha!’ response.’ There’s no denying it, cash and/or acclaim would be a desirable outcome, but I believe that what really fires us up is our need to make sense of ourselves by turning ideas into words.

Which is why I keep writing and will continue to offer permission, encouragement and skills to those who can’t resist the lure. It’s crazy, New Writer – no doubt about it – but it’s as human as our heartbeat. In the end, a silence created by any kind of verbal cleansing would be chilling indeed.

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