write what you know?

what would you set fire to?

what of your past would you set fire to?

When was it? — October 2010 — and I was one of a small group of students tramped out into a damp October night. There were twenty of us, perhaps, and we were newly enrolled on a writing course.

We each had a slip of paper, on which we’d been ask to note down the one thing we swore never to write about. We stood in a small huddle and shuffled, waiting our turn. Someone struck a match. We watched our pieces of paper burn in sombre silence.

The worst of it was not that the past had been forced onto me, but that I had written this thing down and then had set fire to it.

Afterwards, I didn’t feel free of it, or ready to write. I felt I had capitulated.

I think this goes to the heart of what it is to write. Writing comes from the writer. A writer is the work, the work is the writer – as arcane or mundane as that may be – I cannot see how the two can be separated. By this, I do not mean that all writing is memoir. I write fiction. But this motley collection of thoughts and experiences that is me, tap tap tapping word after word after word, has had a life. All of it brings me to the moment of writing – to now.

Can I, should I, slough away (- silence? -) the most difficult parts? Why? Perhaps I don’t have it in me to write about what was on that slip of paper but that is quite different to stating I will not. What is silence in this context, other than defeat?


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