Writing a blog has certain merits, even if it keeps you from reading proper writers. One of these is that you start to notice how well other people write. I re-read the famous ‘Room 101’ scene in George Orwell’s 1984. It was brilliant. Yet it only became brilliant for me once I had experienced for myself how difficult writing is.
Another merit is that, in writing down your views, you are forced to notice where they are in some other way indefensible. This only becomes apparent when you read them. As long as they remain just in your head they look just fine.
I then proceeded to read an article in which many writers named the classic book that they found unreadable. Most of these were funny, well-written and better than anything I could do.
And just after finishing writing my own blog on Christmas I came across an article about Christmas in the Spectator by Alexander Armstrong, not someone known (at least to me) for his literary prowess. As far as I knew he was only famous for being the presenter of the quiz show ‘Pointless’. Yet after reading his article I had to admit that it was like riding in a speedboat after lumbering along in an oil tanker. The whole thing skipped along effortlessly and entertainingly in a way that mine didn’t.
The sensation of being bested by several randomly encountered writers was both depressing and uplifting. Depressing because it showed up my own limitations as a writer and uplifting because it was evidence that I share the world with a lot of clever people.
But perhaps the main reason I like to write is because I have a need to communicate. There is a scene in Catch-22 that is now so vague in my mind that I can only remember the idea behind it and none of the details but it went something like this. Yossarian covers his mouth while he is talking to the army camp psychiatrist. The psychiatrist tells him that this gesture is a way of covering up insecurity. ‘I know’, says Yossarian. ‘Then why do you do it?’, asks the psychiatrist. ‘To cover up my insecurity’, replies Yossarian.
I feel the same way about blogging. I would much prefer not to blog and I also prefer people who don’t. The whole thing is a little self-obsessive. But like Yossarian, I have a need which, if it can’t be satisfied in one way, expresses itself in another. If I lack people to talk to, I blog.
I suspect that people write for different reasons and I wouldn’t want to throw a blanket accusation of self-obsession over all writers. I’m sure that Leo Tolstoy, George Elliot and Emile Zola all had much better reasons than narcissism for their writing.
Even so, I don’t believe anyone really writes purely for themselves and the impulse to write rarely stems from a desire to enlighten the human race. And enlightenment is probably never the main aim behind blogging.
For me the main desire is to be understood. My urge to write in my blog is especially strong when I spend too much time alone. Then I need to be heard and understood by anyone who will listen. And conversely, when I spend more time with friends the urge to write subsides.
Philip Larkin said that the impulse to write poetry largely dried up in him when he no longer felt a build-up of pressure inside him that needed an outlet. Perhaps he simply grew disinterested in people and no longer needed to communicate his feelings to people he was indifferent to.
But I haven’t yet reached the stage where I prefer to keep my own council. I want to talk to people. For me a desire to be heard and understood by others is a basic human need and one that gets me out of bed in the morning.