Portrait of Emma Darwin by JP Masclet

Emma Darwin (writer, Holland House Books) – WHY I WRITE VOL.15

Bio: Emma Darwin’s new creative non-fiction, This is Not a Book About Charles Darwin (Holland House Books), was published in 2019; it was acclaimed by the Literary Review as ‘unsparingly honest…wise, witty and informative’. She is the author of two historical novels: The Mathematics of Love (Headline Review) – which is probably the only book ever to have been nominated simultaneously for the Commonwealth Writers’ Best First Book, and the RNA Novel of the Year – and A Secret Alchemy (Headline Review). Her non-fiction Get Started in Writing Historical Fiction is published by Teach Yourself / John Murray, she has a PhD in Creative Writing from Goldsmiths, and is a creative writing mentor and tutor with a hugely popular blog, This Itch of Writing (link below).

Picture by JP Masclet.

Why I Write, by Emma Darwin.

Because I’d rather write than do anything else

I began writing to see if I could write a novel – and quickly realised that it was the only universally acceptable reason I could hold on to for avoiding doing the washing up. I continued writing until I was doing it professionally because I would rather struggle to earn a living doing what I do best and most satisfyingly, than make an easier living doing something that doesn’t engage my heart as well as my mind. And part of my heart-and-mind-work is teaching and mentoring writers: to help someone else feel their way towards their own best writing is hugely rewarding, especially on the many days when my own writing is not being rewarding at all.

To see and hear, and make sense of things

Writing gives me somewhere to put what I perceive of life and the world we live in – and having somewhere to put experience seems to help keep my eyes and ears and mind open for more. Wrangling and wrestling to find the right sounds and words and sentences to express what I think and feel is the way I then make sense of all that experience. Sometimes it turns out to be a story, sometimes an essay, sometimes just a scrap of a poem – but without that wrangling the experience would never quite be resolved into sharp sense and clear focus.

To be heard

Despite reasons one and two, if I couldn’t get my writing out there to be read in some form, by some means, I wouldn’t write. When a singer doesn’t have an audience she calls it practising; for a writer like me the work doesn’t fully exist until the black marks that I set on the page have travelled outwards, to be reconstituted by the reader’s mind into an experience which is some version of what I tried to express. If I write my first drafts for myself, to find out what I think and feel, then I write second drafts so my reader will think and feel in their turn. And I write third drafts for whoever I need to persuade to buy into – or just to buy – what I want them to hear.

Emma Darwin, This is Not a Book About Charles Darwin, Holland House Press (2019).


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Written by Emma Darwin.

Compiled by Marc Louis-Boyard for Slow Culture

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