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Rachel Zadok

@ Sunday Times Books LIVE

Why write?

From one of those websites dedicated to curating disparate bits of information, the question arose: why write? So instead of writing, I spent the day in moody contemplation.

More truthfully, the muse was elusive.

I’d begun the day discussing failure and followed that with the why write article (like a drunk person necking a tequila shooter).

Bad idea because it led to me being unable to pin down why I write or why I even want to. It made me uneasy that I did not have a solid reason. A sunny Monday that looked like it might be productive at seven am became edgy in a Fear and Loathing kind of way by ten.

The restlessness settled in like an uninvited cousin that had pitched up on my doorstep with a rucksack and no money. I found myself sucking at my fingernails until they felt too long and too thin. All the things I wanted to put on the page elongated away from me. Words became bubbles of chewed gum floating pinkly in front of my eyes until I tried to grab them. Then they slipped from my grasp.  Bouncy balls slimy with saliva.

And I got to thinking about the quotes of the famous that are meant to inspire us. And I thought: what are these things if not ideas encased in other people’s spit?

Which makes the written word what, exactly? Or more specifically, what are my written words? For what reason do they exist?

I set off on my writing journey more than a decade ago and I see behind me a pavement littered with flattened bits of gum gone grey. Maybe they stick to my shoe, or to yours when you read them, old words I chewed and spat out some time ago. My decade of writing has produced one relatively successful debut and one difficult book (difficult to write that is) which isn’t a lot and doesn’t count for much unless you’re Donna Tartt and you sold a million copies – a decade worth of rent in royalties.

My decade brought a series of disappointments, major shifts and drastic changes. My life has been completely reset to factory default twice in those years. I’m that sucker in Monopoly that keeps getting the go-directly-to-jail card (do not pass go, do not collect R200). I am not surprised that Sister-Sister took so long to write. It’s more surprising that I finished it at all. If Sister-Sister does nothing else, it remains as testimony to my resilience. To the fact that I still write.

I do not feel resilient enough of late to stand in the rain and let the hail stones brain me, but I don’t seem to have much choice. What else can a writer do, but write?

I suppose I could return to writing in my head, but then I may end up on the train.

Perhaps I write because I am siderodromophobic.

More likely, it’s because writing leads me to unexpected places. To words like siderodromophobic. Or to petrol stations at a crossroads between this world and the next.

Writing is a process of discovery. It takes me to places I might never otherwise go.  In the end, all writing offers me is a ticket to ride. And some days, that’s enough.


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