Serious Writing

Am I a serious writer? This is a serious question. Conversation with a friend who also writes has inspired me to reflect on how seriously I regard my writing – and why. I have been writing for thirty two years, and am about to publish my nineteenth non-fiction book. During this time I have also written poems, short stories and longer fiction. This last project, ‘Time of the Virus’, is a serious book. Written during lockdown, it is partly memoir, describing my life’s journey and personal responses to the pandemic. The book also reaches beyond myself – reflecting on the dire state of our world, commenting on the many changes we all need to make towards building safe, happy futures that can include every person on the planet.

Having now finished ‘Time of the Virus’, for the first time in years my mind is empty of any long-term project. Having written my previous books one after another, from a contract and timed deadline, all about various aspects of education, inspired from my work as a teacher (the last for schools published in 2016), then my five books for parents in 2019 – this latest book, due out 2021, represents a huge turning point for me. My head is no longer filled with the serious business of education. I am retired. How weird such emptiness feels after so many years! As a serious writer – what do I want to write about?

I love writing and there are very few days when I do not write something. But let’s tackle that word ‘serious’ from a different angle. I cannot write humour. I cannot write anything that does not stem from my own heartfelt thoughts. My poems have mainly emerged from issues I feel strongly about – such as war, homelessness and attitudes towards disability. I struggle to write anything trivial – while a friend of mine wrote a wonderfully funny poem about going to Tesco! Maybe I am a serious writer because I am a serious person. I indulge in philosophical discussion and much prefer drama to comedy. I do not ‘get’ jokes easily. I also worry about the state of the world. Issues such as racial and social inequality cause me to feel sad about where humanity has ended up: hence the reflections in my book on man’s sad road from need to greed.

The pandemic has heightened my emotions and caused me to write about my thoughts and fears. Yet, for me, the experience of the pandemic has not been entirely negative. On the contrary, Covid 19 has stimulated a fresh approach to what it means to be alive – with the need to embrace the future and make the most of whatever years I have left. Seriousness is not all negative; it can equate with positivity.

Back to writing: whatever I write about, I want my words to be read and reflected upon because they convey my emotions. Writing is also creative. My book contains a whole chapter on writing as a form of creative art – and indeed it is for those of us who write with serious intent. I want to be published so my work must have a purpose. I hope that my words carry a message from the inner me to the outer world, in whatever form they are written. Each short story and poem included in my Virus book stems from a serious theme: such as mental health, death, dementia, race or war.

Does being a serious writer equate with being a serious reader? It does for me. I love reading novels set against ‘issues’. A Jodi Picoult story inspired a very short piece on the evil of white supremacy. The film, ‘Journey’s End’ (2018) inspired a poem about the Great War, while a novel set at that time resulted in my short story about a Somme survivor. Reading about characters challenged with serious issues such as race, cruelty, war or disability resonates with the values that comprise my own views and hopes for humanity. I want the world to be different and wish I could wave a magic wand to make it better. Such reading inspires me to want to write about such issues myself. Serious writers surely take ideas from what they read, which is why I have little interest in so-called chick-lit or other writing trivia.

So if I am a serious writer my head cannot remain empty for long. I fully expect an idea to land on my head, dig its way into my brain, take root and grow into my next purposeful writing project. But what will it be? THAT is the question.

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