“Why must you write?” These words are asked of the Earl of Oxford in the new movie Anonymous. The earl replies “Because I hear voices in my head. If I do not write down what they say I know I will go mad.” And at times in the movie, the man does appear a bit mad to others. He lapses into a trance-like state in the theater when his words are being spoken. He shuts himself off in his study, away from the rest of the world with his manuscripts to write. He works into all hours of the day and night putting his prose on paper. He ignores his appearance at times. And in the end, he truly feels his words will win the day because he believes in the power of his words. In 1839 one of his compatriots coined the phrase “The pen is mightier than the sword” for his play “Richelieu or the Conspiracy”, but it may as well have been Shakespeare in this movie - Oh, wait, sorry, this movie argues it was a tormented earl who heard voices.
Any good writer will attest to hearing voices. This made me ponder late last night, when I was up way past three something odd – how many people 100, 200, or more years ago were probably thrown into Bedlam or a similar place because people thought them crazy? They may have actually been tormented writers who could not put word to paper. Perhaps they were illiterate but had stories to tell. This would drive a person over the edge – hearing those voices but having no way to write them down. They certainly could not tell people they had these characters floating around in their heads. Some of the more talented ones became bards – or storytellers. They may have traveled the countryside telling their stories to fascinated audiences who tossed coin their way. They understood the power of a good story but were unable to write them down. Of course once men wrote them down, people could read them voraciously and soon the words were flying off the presses – which was no easy feat back then.
Then, there’s the women. What of women like us, who had stories to tell but were never given the opportunity to read or write. Perhaps they told stories to their children or a close knit group of friends. Perhaps if they were lucky enough they found a mentor who believed in them. Some may have taken on male pseudonyms and published their words that way. Most women were not given credit for having intelligent thoughts like that. Think back on our great writers in the past – how many women do you see? Wouldn’t it be interesting to discover if some of these great writers were actually women? Imagine how that would rock the literary world. If Shakespeare could have been a frustrated earl, who was really the illegitimate son of Queen Elizabeth I, couldn’t it also be possible that the author was a lady in court? William Shakespeare might have been her ghost writer – the person who stood before the audience in her stead.
Think about your own literary career. How many of you started other careers first because you were told “You’ll never make money as a writer”? So you did what you were told by your parents, teachers, or other advisors and got a solid, day-to-day, paying job. And while doing this job – you went crazy because the voices never went away. Oh, they lay dormant for a while, but eventually they started haunting your dreams and waking you up at night. They started interrupting you in the middle of important meetings or while you were having sex with a partner. Images began to appear. People began to take shape in your mind and soon you knew – that even though you had another job – you really wanted to be a writer. NO – you were a storyteller who had to write down your story. So, now you do both because life does not lend itself to a creative life. Those who create must live a tormented life. They are poor until they sell that first manuscript. Even then, the royalties in this day and age are paltry so we must continue our day jobs so we can pursue our passion – writing. Just like the Earl of Oxford in the movie. He had other responsibilities to do first. (many he began to neglect when he started writing, much to the chagrin and displeasure of his family).
Writing is a passion. A passion driven by voices we hear in our heads. Driven by stories that need to be told. Don’t be afraid to let them out. Nurture them like they are your children and let them blossom into fruition. Most of all – live your dream.