Why you should write

I tell you what annoys me. What annoys me is when people imply I have an easy job. Doesn’t that annoy everyone? I don’t know. But I bet brain surgeons get annoyed at parties when people say to them ‘oh, you are so lucky, I’d love to do some minimally invasive endoscopic surgery if only I had the time.’

Or doesn’t that happen?

Anyway, this idea that writers have it easy annoys me for two reasons. First, writing is not stamp-collecting. It is not some nice little hobby you do to wile away the hours. Writing – proper writing – is hard. It is exhausting. It eats you as it feeds you. It is the greatest joy sometimes, but like all the greatest joys it is hard-won. It is no winning lottery ticket.

The second reason the writing-is-an-easy-hobby myth annoys me is that I have to do it. Writing saved my life. I do it to stay alive. It is the only thing in this world that I’ve ever really felt confident at, the only thing that has fit me right. Being published is the prize you get after a life of not fitting in, after being bullied, or falling into insanity, of feeling misunderstood, of sitting on cold benches at school reading Bonjour Tristesse while all the other boys are reading football magazines.

So when people tell us it’s a breeze they might have a point. But what they don’t realise is that what they might think as a breeze is actually the soft after-effect of a hurricane.

Of course, there are people out there who could be writers. Thousands of them. You might be one of them. And there is nothing sadder than the thought of brilliant writers never existing because they didn’t realise they should be doing it. Here are the reasons why you should write. There are probably thousands more, but for me, these are the biggies:

You have something original to say. Or at least, an original way of saying it.

You want to write more than do other things. Never write if you think it is the easy option. If you would really rather be a film director or a sculptor or an investment banker but think that would be too difficult, do not become a writer. Writing, done properly, is as challenging as any job in the world. Having access to the equipment is not the same as having access to the ability.

You know it isn’t about grammar. You can spell. Well done. You know what an adjectival clause is. Great. You’d rather split an atom than an infinitive. Wonderful. But listen Eugene, there is more to writing than knowing how to write. The what and the why are just as important, and they are the bits that can’t be taught.

You actually want to do it. The way to tell if you really want to do something doing something is to ask yourself if you would do it without getting paid. Or without any prospect of getting paid.

You read. What do you call a  good writer who doesn’t read? Non-existent..

You can be brutal. To write well you need to be able to be harsh with yourself. You need to be able to spot when you are being pretentious or lazy or trying too hard to be cool. You need to know yourself, in other words.

You have a high pain threshold. Hemingway famously said that all you have to do as a writer is sit down at a typewriter and bleed. And, in terms of casualty rate, writing is probably worse than ice road trucking and Alaskan crab fishing. I mean, look what happened to Hemingway.

You have to do it. There is no worse feeling than carrying an unborn story inside your head. It is not a case of making time for such stories any more than it is a case of drinking when you are thirsty. Those stories demand to exist, and you are just the medium they use to come into being.

You will burst if you don’t. I write to stay alive. I write because ideas build like water behind a dam. I write because there is a relentless energy inside my mind that can only be sated by creating fiction.

You believe in truth. Truth is not reality. Truth can be a griffin smoking opium. Truth can be a work-shy robot in 3000 AD. Truth means emotional truth, it means the ability to see that much of the time as humans we are acting, we are presenting ourselves to the world, and tiring ourselves making a good impression. The job of the writer is to surpass the falsity of the real world, and burrow towards buried truth.

You love it. Writing is an act of love. A love of words, of stories, of characters. A love of the species to which we belong, and of the minds we want to reach. And like all love it demands sacrifice, commitment and a degree of hurt, but it is very often the most rewarding thing in the world.

This first appeared on the Booktrust website ( where I am currently writer-in-residence.