Why I Write – with Paul Anthony Jones

Why I write – with Paul Anthony Jones

Hello All, how are you doing? I have written here before about why I write, how I find it helpful as a way to create, to express and to empty my mind. I thought it would be interesting to talk to other writers about their writing process and why they write, so I am very pleased-delighted-over-the-moon-excited-proud to present a mini series of “Why I Write” with some lovely authors…..

If you are an avid twitter user (just me) you may have come across the page @haggardhawks written by the fantastic Paul Anthony Jones (if you haven’t go check it now… and what have you been doing with your time??!) Haggard Hawks is a twitter feed devoted to bring back long forgotten words etymological stories” it is truly fabulous.

As it says on his website – Paul is author of eight books about language and etymology: word origins guide Haggard Hawks (2013); its sequel Jedburgh Justice (2014); language trivia book Word Drops (2015); The Accidental Dictionary (2016); language yearbook The Cabinet of Linguistic Curiosities (2017); etymological journey Around the World in 80 Words (2018); and The Cabinet of Calm (2020), a collection of hopeful and inspiring words.

Paul kindly chatted to me about his enjoyment of writing and his process, I am very pleased to share it with you below. Thanks Paul!

What brought you to writing? 

I honestly think as long as I can remember I’ve written for pleasure – there are countless pictures of me as a kid sitting with a pencil and a bit of paper while all the other kids in my family are playing with action figures, so I think it might be in my DNA! It really is all I’ve wanted to do. 

Why do you write?

Two reasons, I guess. 

On a personal level, I write simply because I enjoy it! I’ve never understood the classic writer’s fear of that first blank page; putting words down on paper and creating something is just what I love doing! Even if writing weren’t my career, I know I’d still be putting pen to paper in my spare time. It’s just a way of expounding and expressing thoughts and ideas, and recording things I find interesting. 

More broadly, given the kind of writing I’m involved in at the moment, I guess I’m also driven by a love of getting what I think is the most fascinating subject in the world out to a larger audience. Working and studying in academia really fostered my love of language and language study, but I was constantly frustrated that academic research is so closed off – secretive, competitive world that keeps all the best bits to itself! So I walked away from that with an eye to taking all that wonderful research and knowledge, and repackage it for a wider audience. So you could say I’m driven also by a love of communicating a subject I find fascinating, too. 

How does it make you feel? Is it helpful?

Whether its nonfiction, fiction, poetry, plays, journals, diaries – I think a lot of people’s writing is an outlet, a kind of release. Writing is all about expressing yourself, and getting those ideas and thoughts you have swimming round your head down on paper and out into the real world – crucially, in your own voice, whatever that may be. I sometimes read back over my first books and blogs and cringe a little, because I can tell instantly that I was still writing with quite a dry, professional, academic template still in place. I write much more relaxedly now, in a more conversational way, and it feels so good to be able to express myself in my own voice.  

Do you have a routine or process as you write?

When I first “quit my day job” and began writing full time, I really struggled to keep to a routine. Not having a regular 9-5 framework to work around, I ended up writing at all times of day, often into the early hours of the morning, and my work really suffered as a result. Some people really can work like that, but I learnt quickly that it doesn’t quite suit me. 

Since then, my day to day routine has become much more structured: I always do an early morning class at my local gym (when we’re not in lockdown…!), which gets me up and about, then back home and in front of my laptop or a pile of books by about 8.30am. For me, I find it’s too easy to let the morning drift by without something to get out of bed for!  

I’m typically working on several projects at the same time – my latest book, pitches for new ideas, freelance articles, promotional work and articles, blog posts for my website, Twitter posts, podcasting ideas… The list goes on. As a result, I quite often work in a fairly scattershot way, switching between one project and another; I’ll quite often work on three or four different pieces or ideas in a single day. That wouldn’t work for everyone, certainly, but I find it really helps to work on one thing, step away for a time to work on something else, then come back with a clearer head. It’s too easy to get bogged down, working on a single idea for days at a time, I find, and lose track of the fact that you’re writing for other people to read, not yourself. 

Whenever I’m asked about the writing process, I always like to make a point that what works for me may not be what works for anyone else. There’s quite often an awful snobbishness surrounding professional writing, that can make people who are just starting out think that if they aren’t writing thousands of words every day; or they don’t keep a diary; or they write on a laptop rather than longhand; or they don’t have a notebook and a fountain pen with them every moment of every day, that they’re not a “Proper Writer”. It drives me mad! 

Yes, many professional writers write and act like you would expect a professional writer to – but many, many writers don’t. You’re a writer if you write – it’s as simple as that. And whether that means moving to Paris and writing a novel on an old iron typewriter, or sneaking away from the kids for half an hour to write a couple of paragraphs on Microsoft Word on the family PC, it doesn’t matter. Your writing method is your own, no better or worse than anyone else’s – so don’t let anyone ever put you off! 

Thanks so much Paul. Cabinet of Calm is out now.