On the road again
I enjoy writing. It’s not the torture that some experience and the only major problem I have with it is that Life gets in the way too much. Without work, socialising and personal hygiene, there would be more time spent pecking away at a keyboard but a need to eat and not live in a cardboard box means that time available is never time enough.
Over the years I have read many articles about why writers write but it is hard to get excited about the why. All writers have their reasons but those reasons are mainly only important to themselves. My ‘Why’ is laughably simple; if I didn’t write my head would feel full of popping candy. Thoughts, questions and ideas pinging around my skull in an endless whoosh, would drive me round the bend.
Writing things down gives shape to the formless bursts of inspiration, brings relief of exasperation and allows me to arrange some of those random ideas into a semblance of order. If I’m ever caught charging naked down the high street brandishing an axe you can assume the root cause is that my laptop has broken.
So, there you go that was the ‘Why I write’ article. Clearly, I’m not being paid by the word.
More interesting, personally speaking, is the exploration of how, where and when I started writing.
As a teenager I would politely describe myself as a restless personality. I was never particularly at peace with the world or my place within it but, lacking the insight or the means to do anything about that dissatisfaction I buzzed about like a bee in a bottle. Constantly crashing against barriers I couldn’t comprehend, I struggled to settle into jobs or relationships and was always looking for the greener grass on the other side of the hill.
Having grown up in a succession of small villages I was determined to get out into the world and see what lay beyond my parochial borders. Almost from the day I left school, travel became both my religion and my therapy. The latter though was incomplete and imperfect. The restlessness changed but never went away and I constantly confused the feeling of motion with direction.
Some journeys were arranged. Trains, planes, bikes and buses all played their part but mostly I journeyed in private cars which I didn’t own. Hitch-hiking that is, not grand theft auto.
Whenever I was bored, angry, stuck or lost to myself, I could pick up a small bag, head out onto a road and see where my thumb would take me, and it took me all sorts of places. I journeyed around Scotland and the rest of the UK at first but then got into the habit of leaving my passport in the pocket of my holdall and soon I was going not just cross-country but cross-continent. From Calais to Cairo, journeys were experienced in the most raw, direct way possible.
When a random truck pulled up at the side of the road just before the rain came on it was like winning the lottery. I sometimes picked up work along the way and sometimes just kept going until I was tired enough to crash out and sleep. It was exciting and dull and wonderful and crap. It was all things and it was utterly unpredictable from day to day.
And it made me feel alive.
There were inevitably, lows to go with the highs and occasionally I would find myself stuck, physically and mentally, at the side of a highway, in a roadside café or just in the arse end of nowhere with no reason to be there and no objective in mind. At those times I would have to stop moving and think my way out of the doldrums and this is when I started to write things down.
Writing clarified my thoughts. It helped define some kind of positive direction. I wrote on the inside of novels, on the back of receipts, on any scrap of paper I could scrounge and slowly, writing started to become a companion to travelling. It was easier to write to myself at three in the morning than it was to think things through during normal office hours.
These peripatetic scribbling sessions happened all over the place; Seattle bus station, a truck stop in Wawa, Canada, Munich hauptbahnhof, every single service station on the M6 and far too many more to remember. Not always during the wee small hours but usually; when traffic was sparse or no trains were due until the morning and there was time to pause and consider the world around and within.
Both of these habits continued when I started university in Glasgow and the requirement to produce written course work was obviously good practice, especially as essays always seemed easier to create late at night on the eve of the submission deadline. Hitching was a regular feature of life at Uni. Trips back to the Highlands, for work and for family were almost always by thumb. A long-distance girlfriend in London saw me heading south most Friday nights for four months and back North every Sunday night. Monday morning management lectures were an absolute joy.
A mountaineering expedition to Greenland made keeping notes an everyday experience and the diaries from that and other trips still make me smile thirty years later.
Writing for Sports and Outdoor websites in Ireland was when I started to make money from writing and those early articles also make me smile but more from embarrassment than fondness. Putting some of these articles on LinkedIn Pulse took me to a bigger audience and some ghost-writing. Following the demise of Pulse, I tend to publish and format most things on the bebee website and can be found here https://ie.bebee.com/bee/neil-smith/blog if you are interested
At the moment I am working on more projects and ideas than will ever see the light of day in completed form and this will continue so long as the popping candy keeps bouncing around my head. It has been at times; a hell of ride and I probably owe it all to a rainy night in South Mimms Service Station on the M25.
Thanks, as always, for reading.
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