It’s a very good question, and one I’m not sure I have ever satisfactorily answered. Maybe the best place for me to start is with a different question: Why do I write?
Why do I write?
For as long as I can remember, I have always derived pleasure from the simple act of putting pen to paper, or more recently finger to keyboard. It has never really mattered what I write about: at various times since my mid-teens I have kept a diary, produced factual articles and reviews, and tried my hand at different fictional genres, from sci-fi to comedy to chick-fic. And yes, I have also attempted – and aborted, at least twice – that ever-elusive cliché: the first novel.
In fact, if I look hard enough, I’m sure I’ll be able to find a first draft of a TV pilot script I wrote about twenty years ago which was, basically, Lost. But without the plane. And the mysterious island. And Hurley. And it was rubbish. But other than that, it was virtually identical.
Most of what I have written in the past was utter junk, and hardly any of it was ever completed – let alone submitted for professional scrutiny – but that has never been important to me. Although there is a small part of me that has always longed to be a professional writer, I know that I’m more in love with the idea of writing than the actual reality of it. A journalist’s/novelist’s life is not for me. I might have to, you know, actually finish something.
The written word is also a medium in which I am far more comfortable. Put me in a group of extroverts – and compared to me the average Trappist monk looks like an extrovert – and I will gladly shrink into the background and let others be the centre of attention. In fact, I have a tendency to develop a slight stammer which is symptomatic of my discomfort in such situations and means that I am absolutely useless at telling jokes. But ask me to explain something or tell a story in writing, and I am far more outgoing and eloquent in print than I ever could be in speech – classic introverted behaviour.
But to answer my own question: why do I write? I write because I like to write – no more, no less. Without getting all Sigmund Freud about it, let’s leave it at that.
What kind of writer am I?
The non-conformist in me rebels against the idea of being neatly pigeon-holed into a specific genre. I’m not a sports writer. I don’t aspire to produce great works of literary fiction. I’m not some angry acne-ridden misfit writing in my mother’s basement, as Andrew Marr so inelegantly stereotyped bloggers recently. I just write about “stuff I like”, rather than worrying about fitting into any neatly defined niche.
As I’ve said, I write for the simple pleasure of it. I don’t crave a big audience (although it’s always nice to get comments from people) and I’m comfortable writing about any topic I have a basic working knowledge of and an opinion on. Regular readers of this blog will know that I write about the ups and downs of fatherhood, TV programmes, technology – in fact, anything that happens to catch my interest. And on my other, sports-based blog I write mostly about football and cycling, but again will quite happily jot a few hundred words about pretty much anything. Heck, the other day I was even writing about gymnastics. It doesn’t happen often, but I had an opinion I wanted to voice, so I did.
More important to me is not what I write about, but how I write it. The more seriously I have started to take my blogging over the past year or so – I now typically write for 10-12 hours per week – the more I have realised that I have a definite default style.
There are some brilliant bloggers out there who can write passionate but succinct opinion pieces. That’s not me. I love doing the detailed research which allows me to put the pieces of a complex jigsaw puzzle together. Most of my posts are at least 1,000 words long, and typically more like 1,500. That natural preference means I am, at heart, a writer whose voice relies on rational rather than emotional arguments. Virtually everything I write has a definite beginning, middle and end, and my writing style lends itself to taking a reader on a carefully crafted journey from A to B via clearly defined mile-posts. In fact, I construct many of my posts in this distinctly non-linear fashion: I write my opening and closing paragraphs first, then map out my key points. I don’t know how many other bloggers write this way, but it certainly works for me.
Another common features of my writing is a predilection for cultural references. I am by no means a literary person – I have only a passable knowledge of Shakespeare and have read far fewer of the ‘classics’ than I would care to admit – but I am certainly literate. I like to treat language in the way a surgeon wields a scalpel, using analogy and metaphor to add colour and flavour to my writing, with a liberal peppering of both classical and popular culture references. In fact, many of my posts are specifically about past or present popular culture. And indeed the name of this blog is an allusion to the book Slouching Towards Bethlehem by Joan Didion, which in turn is derived from a line in the poem The Second Coming by W B Yeats – both are referenced frequently in TV and film.
What kind of a writer do I want to be?
Having said that I have an established style and a particular writing ‘voice’, what interests me currently is the challenge of stretching myself to write with different voices. Am I capable of writing, for instance, a serious review? Or a funny one? Or, best of all, one which manages to be both? Can I write a convincing outsider’s view of a topic I know nothing about? Can I write from an emotional rather than a rational standpoint? Can I start a piece without already knowing what I want the end to be? Can I write a post without asking myself pointless and pretentious questions?
This blog is my testing ground; my way of expressing myself however I want about whatever I want. Some of it, I’m quite sure, will be absolute twaddle. And I’m not sure quite where I will end up, but the journey itself will enrich me and make me a better, more rounded writer rather than one content to reside in my little comfort zone. So if you see me spouting off about something random which is a complete departure from the norm for me, you’ll know why. Bear with me. I will improve.
So, to return to where we came in: what kind of a writer am I? My answer is what it is: I’m just a writer, no more, no less. And it almost doesn’t matter, because I am constantly seeking to develop and expand in different directions. So even if you could define what kind of a writer I am now, I will be a slightly different one in three, six or 12 months’ time. That’s just part of the fun.