The (sometimes violent) urge to write


Scribble, scribbleAs of this writing, I will have published 253 posts since I began this blog at the ending week of December, 2011. Two hundred and fifty three posts in 21 months. Just over one post every two-and-a-half days, on average. Plus 30 or so still in draft mode. Another half-dozen scribbled in word processing notes or notebooks.

And that doesn’t include the six years of blog posts – a list of 91 pages – on my previous blog site (still available in archive format, although some formatting issues have developed after some code updates).

“Scribble, scribble, scribble,” as Prince William Henry, Duke of Gloucester and Edinburgh said to Edward Gibbon. *

Approximately 500,000 words on this blog as published, public material. Uncounted numbers on my other sites, forum and blog, in draft or other formats.

That’s a lot of writing – and it still doesn’t include the writing I have done for my Municipal World articles or books (more than 75,000 words in two published books, one submitted and in editing at 45,000, and the fourth still being written – about 20,000 so far), my Machiavelli book (more than 75,000 words), and a novel I started more than a year ago (approx. 50,000 so far).

Or the writing I’ve done for an upcoming convention talk, my websites, and the innumerable Facebook (and the pages I maintain), Twitter, LinkedIn and forum posts. The ukulele and harmonica reviews, the motorcycle essays, the blog pages, and pre-blog material, the tequila guide. Or numerous emails to staff and fellow councillors, the work I did for a local political party – including crafting their newsletter.

Nor does it include any of the stuff I’ve written in the recent past -other magazine articles I’ve had published since I started blogging (Discover Mexico and others). Or material that may never see print – drafts of the stories, articles, family genealogy, book and movie reviews, websites and pages in draft format, and draft responses to the nonsense and vituperative bullying from local bloggers.***

Which is why I changed the name of this blog to Scripturient: it means the urge (often violent) to write. It’s still my own intellectual Brownian motion – and you’ll have to look up Brownian motion to get the reference. But the name fits my particular obsession better than the old name which I used for years: Mumpsimus (a delightfully quirky word discovered in Jeffrey Kacirk’s wonderful book, Forgotten English).

Writing is just something I feel compelled to do. And when I can’t do it, I get twitchy. I have almost as strong an urge to play music, but my passion far outweighs my talent, so I tend to rein that it more. And my other obsession is reading, of course. But writing is the main mania. Putting words into order, like an OCD compulsion, matters to me.

I estimate that in the last two years, I’ve written at least 1,000,000 words, half of them on this blog. And in return, I’ve had almost 80,000 views of this material. Thank you. I hope it proved entertaining at least – and somewhat thought-provoking.

But in fairness, dear reader, I did not writ e those words for your entertainment, your elucidation, or your edification. I wrote them for me, because writing is what I do. What I have to do to retain my grip on whatever sanity binds me as a person. That they may provide some of those benefits, some of those effects, is a bonus for both of us. But that’s not why they are here.

I wrote them because I love writing and the act of crafting a sentence, of building sentences into paragraphs and paragraphs into essays is a creative act like writing a sonata, a symphony or a simple song. My muse drives me and compels me to write. The flogging will continue, she whispers seductively in my ear, until morale improves.

Gibbon’s magnum opus, the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire (which I have only partially read in its abridged version – it’s beautifully written but dense) was 1.5 million words and took him 15 years to complete. Imagine what he could have done with a word processor!

On writing – and it was all handwritten, with quill pen – his final lines of his six-volume masterpiece, in 1787, Gibbon later wrote,

It was on the day, or rather the night, of 27 June 1787, between the hours of eleven and twelve, that I wrote the last lines of the last page in a summer-house in my garden. … After laying down my pen I took several turns in a berceau, or covered walk of acacias, which commands a prospect of the country, the lake, and the mountains. The air was temperate, the sky was serene, the silver orb of the moon was reflected from the waters, and all nature was silent. I will not dissemble the first emotions of joy on the recovery of my freedom, and perhaps the establishment of my fame. But my pride was soon humbled, and a sober melancholy was spread over my mind by the idea that I had taken my everlasting leave of an old and agreeable companion, and that, whatsoever might be the future date of my history, the life of the historian must be short and precarious…

The first volume had been published in 1776; the last would see print in 1788. He was amazingly calm, reflective on its completion, although, like Darwin’s great work, it would create a firestorm of controversy from the religious.

Imagine writing a whole novel – let alone a six-volume work – by hand. But that’s how it was done by Austen, Dickens, Bronte, Hardy, Swift, Casanova, Newton, Darwin, Shakespeare and every other author: handwritten until the very late 19th century. Even then, it took another 20 or so years for the typewriter to be standardized and accepted as a tool for writing. Many authors still wrote longhand despite its presence – Joyce comes to mind.

I have notebooks I wrote in the late 60s and early 70s, handwritten with bits of art, poetry and thoughts. Not very good writing, but I did try to keep my handwriting alive for many years.

I learned my mechanical writing skills on old Underwoods and Royals, machines like those that graced the desks of people like Hemingway and Kerouac. I remember my excitement when I got to work on an early IBM Selectric. Yet somehow its efficiency didn’t move me like my old Underwood. There’s  a sensual pleasure from pressing the keys, the clack of the letter hitting the paper, the little ting of the bell when the carriage hits the end and you shove the lever to return it.

Word processors changed everything. The empowerment technology lends us – although not the ability or talent. I delighted in the magic of computers early, buying my first in 1977. Not a day has gone by since then in which I haven’t owned at least one, more often several. For a few years, I was heavily into writing code, too. Ahh, youth. Coding is another art, but my skills rusted when new languages came in for new computers.

I wrote my first book on an Atari 800 in 1982, and parts of another on the same machine. I wrote heavily on a Kaypro “portable” computer through the 80s using Perfect Writer and WordStar software. I had Apples, IBMs, Dells, Commodores and others over the years, all pumping out words and more words.

In my basement I still have boxes of material I’ve written – including a lot of unpublished manuscripts (novels – about a dozen, only one of which has any potential for resurrection), and technical manuals for hardware and software companies. Newspaper and magazine articles. Columns, feature articles, short stories.

Scribble, scribble, scribble…

Red Smith, a famous sports writer, was once asked if writing was a difficult chore. He replied:

“No. You simply sit down at the typewriter, open your veins, and bleed.”

I can understand why Don Marquis turned to Archy to carry the written load when his own veins ran dry of the ink. But I seldom run out of things to write.

I found another blogger, Don McAllister, who writes about being an obsessed writer, whom he says is equally obsessed with reading (as am I):**

The obsessed writer is also obsessed with reading, but always conscious of the time that takes away from writing. But when they do read, they make sure it’s high quality material. They understand that it has to be really good for it to lift up their own material.
The obsessed writer reads stuff like a thief, looking to pickpocket good ideas. They aren’t afraid to steal, modify, or do what they have to do to support their own brilliant ideas.

A group calling itself the Obsessed Writers (sic) Group defines a writer thus:****

Anatomy of a Writer

  • Love of the written word.
  • Obsessed with writing.
  • Looks forward to putting pen to paper on regular basis (or fingers to keyboard)!
  • Experiences natural high after writing, editing, and polishing a piece to perfection.
  • Feels obligated to share with others through writing
  • Looks forward to writing each day and rushes through other commitments to satisfy the writing urge.
  • Avid Reader of any type of printed word.
  • Yearns to quit day job to solely concentrate on writing
  • Envisions writing for a living
  • Devours anything to do with the craft of writing and freelance writing

Obsessed writerI write a lot. But not always what I want to write, which is – at this point – fiction. Finish the novel that sits like an undigested meal in my hard drive, my logic centre nags me. I keep getting distracted. Blogging is like eating salted peanuts: I just can’t stop.

And yet I still cogitate over the value of the digital content versus published content. Where will these words be in a year? Five years? A decade? Will they outlive me like a printed book?

Although I am at heart a techie, e-books and e-readers do not give me any emotional satisfaction. yes, they would be good to hold many of the classics I have on my shelf  – now all public domain – so I could clear the space for newer titles. I read them sporadically anyway, at a slower pace than my usual reading list of non-fiction.

But every time I think about it, I hesitate. The heft of a book, its feel in my hands, the smell, the slight breeze from a turning page. It all matters, it all sings to me. It inspires me more than the crisp digital display of a Kobo.

Anyway, to wrap up, I recently attended the first meeting of the Collingwood Writers’ Collective at the Library. It was a very good turnout for a first meeting of an under-promoted event: 18 people, all writers, not all published, mind you, but all with the passion for writing. I hope to get some motivation for fiction writing and perhaps some creative criticism of my efforts to date from this group. And to feed my obsession with writing.

Next meeting is October 17 at 7 p.m. Maybe we’ll see you there. Call Ken Haigh at the library for more info.


* The full quote is, “Another damned thick book! Always scribble, scribble, scribble! Eh, Mr. Gibbon?” according to Wikiquote. It’s also the title of a book by historian Simon Schama.

** Discretion, I tell myself,  to paraphrase an epithet, is the bitter part of valour, when it comes to challenging claptrap. Don’t sink to their level, I repeat like a manta: stay positive, focused and out of the muck. There are more important things to do with your words.
*** Unfortunately, Don makes the mistake of using “writer’s” (possessive) when he should use “writers” (plural) in this piece. He also writes “he obsessed writer reads stuff like a thief, looking to pickpocket good ideas. They are…” It should be He/she is….”  for the pronoun to match the previous sentence. Editing is also an obsession with me. I should contact him.

**** I hesitate to join a group that is unaware of the basic need for the apostrophe in the possessive form. Lynn Truss would agree.

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Ian Chadwick
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  1. abbottaerospace

    I enjoyed reading this entry – compulsion is what drives us all, whether it is to drink, destroy or create. If you want any proof reading I would love to help. In the time I have between satisfying my own compulsions.

  2. Now at 257 published posts, 31 drafts, and a new section added to my most recent book since I posted this… scribble, scribble, scribble..

    My most recent post was more than 7,500 words long – but to be fair, it was mostly quotes taken from other websites. Perhaps 1,500 were mine. I didn’t mention the quotes I use in the above post, but I do take relevant material from books or from credible websites to use as support for points I am making. I always provide a link to the source, however.

  3. October 26: Passed 80,000 views today, with 273 published posts. Thanks to everyone who has contributed to that count by reading my humble efforts at writing. I hope it has at least proven entertaining, but better yet, educational and informative.

    Less than a month since I first wrote this piece and I’ve already written 20 new posts. Almost one a day. Might have to collect them into an e-book sometime. Not that anyone would buy it, mind you. Just like to go through the exercise.

    I realize there are sites online that get that many views every day, but I like to think that, for a small, local, meandering and often unfocused blog, it’s not a bad number. After all,these are just my personal opinion, my personal experiences and my personal thoughts. Like I said above, I am helpless in the face of the urging of my Muse. I simply need to write.

    Best day for me was 1,076 views, back in September when a post I wrote earlier on the chemtrail conspiracy nonsense, proved very popular. Sometimes these things take off, it seems.

    I write about conspiracy theories a lot – from the bizarre ones like chemtrail, anti-vaccination wonks, reptiloids and New World Order, to the local incoherent blathering about alleged (and untrue) government corruption. It’s amazing, always amazing that nonsense gets such coverage and attention.

    I like to think my clarifications and debunking of this collective codswallop help clear the (digital) air. Conspiracy theories are simply modern superstition. All of them.

    I suspect it’s like Kim Kardashian’s cat: we are, collectively, more attracted to mindless spectacle and entertainment than to truth, science and fact. But, like the TV show said, the truth is out there. Just have to get away from the bunkum to find it. Trust me to steer you you away from the horse manure.

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