Menna van Praag
Writerly Wisdom Wednesdays: Why I Write.
As someone who cannot recall any but the most significant moments of my childhood, I can never claim to have always wanted to be a writer. I certainly was an avid reader, as surely any writer was and is, but I don’t remember making the causal connection between the stories I read and the writers who wrote them. Thus I can only say that the first time I wanted to write professionally – the first time I ever dared hope that such a thing was possible – was when my inspiring A Level English Literature teacher, Carol Stuart, who introduced me to the works of Margaret Atwood, suggested that one of the stories I’d written was, in her opinion, “publishable”.
I can still close my eyes and recall that moment – her classroom, where I was sitting, the look of kind sincerity on her face. It was a seminal moment for several reasons, not only because it enabled me to entertain the notion of trying to get published in the first place, but also because it gave me an undying understanding of the significance of great teachers in transforming a person’s life. The life-changing effect of Ms Stuart on the trajectory of my own life was one of the main reasons why I wanted to teach creative writing myself - if I can inspire my own students even half as much as she inspired me, then I'll consider mine a life well-lived.
So, once I believed I could write – though it was a long time after that 'till I believed I could write anything that was any good – I began in earnest. Three years later, after graduating from Oxford, I was so set on this path to publication that I decided to forgo getting a “real” job, instead taking the brave, if rather foolhardy, step of not following my fellow students into their city jobs but instead becoming a waitress.
I made this decision after having worked a little while in an office over the summer and found myself so brain-dead at the end of the day that writing novels was the last thing I was able to do. Waitressing, however, was a purely physical job and thus ideal. Whenever I wasn’t serving customers I would write snippets of sentences on my order pad and random napkins, building up stories in my mind while dashing between the kitchen and front-of-house. It worked well and I was happy, though I spent nearly a decade waitressing before I was finally published.
For all this talk of publication, that decade in the wilderness while I was learning my craft taught me that the reason I write isn't actually in order to leave my mark, or (vainly) try to express myself in a way that reaches the heights of those writers I most admire. I write because it is the singular way in which I can express what is within me; I am a writer. I write because it is then that I feel most alive; the act of writing ignites my spirit and soothes my soul. I will do it till I take my final breath. And I hope that it'll be the very same for you, for whatever it is that you wish most of all to do.
Menna van Praag
5th October, 2022