by Rosy Edwards
If you have ever desired anything – a person or an object, a job or a skill – you will know that it can hurt.
If you have the desire to write, the pain feels like heartbreak mixed with thrush crossed with dire thirst. You feel it slightly in every intake of breath. Reviews of other authors’ books hit you corporally, down in the marrow.
To be a writer, you have to skip right over ‘want’ and go straight to raw desire. No one chooses to make their crust from writing, not in a world where a video clip of a grumpy cat has the equivalent impact of a gazillion words, conceived and typed with blood, caffeine and many, many tears. You must desire writing with every sinew and tendon in your body to the point where the thought of a life lived unpublished is no life at all.
For 27 years I wanted to write a book so much I thought I might jump out of my skin.
When I finally got the chance, I finished it in the allotted six months in a kind of dishevelled fugue state. By the time I held the first copy, I’d discovered something else about desire: it doesn’t go away when you get what you want. Spoiler: once you’ve had some literary success, the desire to write intensifies.
“Success in writing is not the trophy on your mantelpiece; it’s the knowledge that your version of events is the most affecting, and most beautifully put.”
Writing is more than the urge to tell stories, although that’s part of it. It is a fervent need to communicate and share: this is how we ground ourselves in the world, and feel validated. Success in writing is not the trophy on your mantelpiece; it’s the knowledge that your version of events is the most affecting, and most beautifully put.
Here is something else I learnt when I wrote my book: that misery may love company but desire finds company first. When I met fellow author Amy Baker, she was half way through writing her first book – mine had just come out. We went for a drink and ten minutes in, I knew the same incurable desire that ran in my veins also flowed in hers.
The week Amy’s book, Miss Adventures: A Tale of Ignoring Life Advice While Backpacking Around South America was published we met for (more) wine. Like me, her desire to write had been fuelled, not quelled, by achieving her life-long dream. We were both becoming addled by it. We needed to channel our desire into something, so we launched The Riff Raff three weeks later.
Our press release says: ‘The Riff Raff is a writers’ community that champions debut authors and supports aspiring writers.’ Really, we are in the business of desire. At our events, five first-time authors read from their books, each text a testament to its authors’ uncontrollable, inexhaustible desire to write. Our followers are composed of book lovers and aspiring writers and you can spot the latter a mile off. It’s their hungry eyes, you see.
We are a group of people who share a desire that is so strong it has to be shared and diluted to stop it going inward and becoming toxic.
If your one desire is to be a writer, it won’t be the coos of your mates or a jolly Times review that drives you, although they are nice.
It’s the understanding of what desire feels like, and realising you will never feel it for anything other than words. Not like this.
Rosy Edwards is the author of Confessions of a Tinderella and the co-founder of The Riff Raff.
Photo credit: Alice Lubbock