I write for many reasons. I write because when I’m at work I live with my colleagues. I write because the security situation here means I can’t wander around the city when I need to clear my head. I write because I can’t call up one of my friends and pop out for a glass of wine to unwind in the evening. I write because I live in Iraq.
When I am in Iraq, writing provides me with space. It offers a mental separation from my job and surroundings when a physical one is not possible. It keeps me sane and it keeps me healthy. Personal wellbeing is important in such an intense environment. While I workout in the evening as a physical outlet for stress, writing in the morning is my creative outlet. I get up most days at six o’clock and write for an hour or two before heading to the office.
Of course, being in Iraq is not my only reason for writing. I caught that bug long before I made acquaintance with the Middle East. Between the ages of fourteen and nineteen I worked part-time in a small bookshop in my village (which I maintain is the best job I have ever had). I promised the owner of the shop that I would have a book of my own on his shelves before he retired. I write because I would hate to break that promise.
It is perhaps because of that bookshop that writing has always been my retreat. During my teenage years, life at home was difficult. The bookshop was a haven of calm and I spent many afternoons drinking tea and chatting to customers about what they were reading, under the auspices of ‘work’. Literature was my safe place, as it is now. The bookshop owner became somewhat of a mentor for me and I ended up following in his footsteps by pursuing a languages degree at Trinity Hall, Cambridge. Studying Arabic and Spanish opened up entirely new worlds for me, with each trip abroad providing further inspiration for my writing.
Much of my writing is set in foreign climes. I love to include splashes of different languages in my stories and to evoke different locations through scents and tastes. Bizarrely though, I rarely write about such locations when I’m in them, which I think is due to my need for space and separation. When I’m in Iraq, I don’t want to write about Iraq. I want to write about street children in Mexico or life as a military girlfriend in Germany or cold winters sat in the libraries of Cambridge. As soon as I leave Iraq, my writing will veer back to stories about the Middle East. My mind and body tend to enjoy being in disparate places!
I also have a new reason to write at the moment: I have deadlines. After enjoying online writing courses so much, I decided to take the plunge and start a distance learning Masters in Creative Writing at the University of Lancaster. I have reduced my stints working in Iraq and now balance my time equally between work in Erbil and writing from my home in Stuttgart. Knowing that I have set submission dates really helps get words down on the page and beat the procrastination monster.
Are those all of the reasons I write? Probably not! I’d like to echo the sentiment of Alexia’s post from last week: I write because it makes me happy.