Firstly, a Blessed Samhain to you all.
I’m fresh from a weekend at the Bram Stoker Film Festival in Whitby and a damned fine time was had by all. Sadly, I returned to the news that my mother is in hospital – entirely self-inflicted but we won’t go into that, and no sooner was through the door with my suitcase and jar of garlic chutney from Transylvania than I was turning around with my car keys in hand, off to drive my father to the hospital. My parents can’t drive, and I’m the only child, so ever since passing my driving test ten-or-so years ago, I’ve become the family taxi. I returned from the hospital four hours later to find that the hubby had unpacked the cases and done all the washing (no, you can’t have him), so I put my feet up for an hour and settled down to wade through the last three issues of Writing Magazine that I haven’t yet found the time to read.
I’ve moaned about WM before and have wondered on occasion if I shouldn’t just sack off my subscription. On the other hand, I do find some of the articles useful or inspiring, I’ve discovered new authors in their pages, won a competition, not won many others, and He Who Shall Be Served finds my giant stack of back issues pleasing to sit on.
As I read through the August issue, I once again found myself gritting my teeth with a mixture of annoyance and (yes, I’ll admit it) jealousy at all of these authors who seem to just breeze through their days with little or no sleep, minimal distractions or commitments, and manage to knock out a novel every 6 – 9 months whilst sharing such original advice as, ‘Write every day!’ and ‘Learn discipline!’. Just as an example, here’s a piece of advice from the issue: ‘Try to write every day, whatever your mood and whatever you write. This is the professional approach.’ And then further on: ‘Life is full of challenges and you need to learn the willpower necessary to produce words every day no matter what’.
I accept this advice; it’s good advice. However, life is full of challenges, and sometimes, no matter how hard you try, hours in the day and gas in the tank are finite quantities that no amount of good advice can alter. Out of curiosity, I visited said author’s website to see if it included a bio. From it I gleaned that he lives with his wife and teaches an MA novel course at uni. All of his previous jobs are writing-related too: teacher, bookseller, editor, copywriter, journalist – a wonderful career for anyone with a passion for writing. I can’t of course comment on his personal circumstances and wouldn’t presume to do so, but none of what I read on his website surprised me; the tone of his article suggested exactly the professional background he hails from. It’s also why I don’t believe his article will resonate with much of the magazine’s readership.
In contrast, I hail from a working class background, chose an NVQ over further education, purely because it provided me a wage and my family were hardly well off. I’ve had various uninspiring admin jobs and now spend eight hours a day, five days a week, on my arse in front of a computer screen, trying not to stab my colleagues in the face with my letter opener. By the time I get home I’m mentally exhausted, but then have to force myself to exercise, and mostly I manage it. Then I have to eat, and shop, and clean, and run around after the family when required, which is often. Sometimes I even get to sleep.
There are days when I don’t write.
I said it.
But according to the article, that makes me a bad author. It means I’m not ‘professional’. It means that I’m just not dedicated enough to find the willpower required to follow my dream.
No, Mr Article Writer Who Shall Not Be Named, it does not. But that’s how I felt, for a moment. Guilty. A fraud without commitment to the passion I’ve held since I first sat down and wrote ‘Once upon a time in a land far away…’ (I just checked the Novel That Shall Never See Daylight, and the first line is actually, ‘I grasped the iron bars so tightly that my knuckles turned white with the strain…’ – poorly written, but not a bad hook for a writer who knew diddly-squat about writing – at least we’re in the middle of the action from the start).
I think what I’m trying to say is that everyone is different. We all have varying commitments and lifestyles. Some of us write for a living full time and some of us work in offices, factories, supermarkets, hospitals, whatever pays the bills whilst we squeeze in the writing in what little time is left. Some of us come from a publishing background: journalism, teaching, editing. If you read through the pages of Writing Magazine you’ll find a host of authors from just such a background. Can they accredit some part of their success to their knowledge of the business, their contacts, or did they just naturally gravitate towards those kinds of professions through an early love of writing? Does that put those of us outside the bubble at a major disadvantage? I have read articles in Writing Magazine from authors without a university education, authors who have worked as bank clerks and cleaners and drivers, folk with a pure love for literature that drove them to sit down and open up the laptop or pick up a notebook and pen and start scribbling, despite a lack of formal education or a knowledge of ‘the craft, but they’re few and far between’. As part of this circle I’m obviously biased, but it’s articles from these kinds of writers that I find the most honest; they’ll freely admit to having days where they don’t write a thing, and don’t pretend there’s anything wrong with it, or wrong with you for allowing yourself a break.
But hey, Mr Article Writer, I just sat down after an eight hour shift where I caught up on a two day backlog of emails thanks to my holiday, and thrashed out a 1000 word blog post, get me! Now I’m off to go and buy some food to fill my pathetically empty cupboards, not before doing another hospital run, and then I might fit in an hour on the treadmill, and then I might fall into bed. I hope that’s quite enough willpower for you, but if not, please feel free to write another article condemning me for it. I may not read it, though. I don’t think I have the time.