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Sunday, 14 September 2014

A Writer's Life

A few weeks ago I read a report in the newspaper that two thirds of British people would like to change their job. We all know people who are in the wrong jobs, who ended up there without intending to but who don't know how to escape. I would guess that a substantial number of those have a burning desire to do something more creative.

Recently I did a critique for an aspiring author. In his follow-up e-mail this person used the word 'vegetate' in relation to his current job and, over the air-waves, I felt his frustration. What he really wants, above all else, it to be a published writer and hopefully he will become one.

It seems to me that being a writer has a rather romantic air about it, especially to those longing to chuck in their jobs and to write full time. Maybe this is why a few years ago, a student from my old school rang and asked to shadow me for a week as I worked. I was stunned and wondered if she had any idea what writing fiction entailed. Maybe if I wrote biographies or factual books or even historical fiction it would have been do-able, for a day or two. But there is not much research involved in my line of fiction and I think she would have been horribly bored watching me staring into space or typing random thoughts on to my keyboard, so I gently declined.

A few days ago when rummaging through my bookshelves I came across Natalie Goldberg's book, Wild Mind. I love Natalie Goldberg, the directness of her writing style, her encouraging tone, her energy. Very early on in this book she states that 'Being a writer is a whole way of life, a way of seeing, thinking, being.' It sounds all-consuming, doesn't it?  Daunting and slightly exotic.

I began to think about what 'being a writer' means to myself and my writer friends. They are normal people with normal lives. We have the same worries, hopes, fears, domestic duties, family commitments as the next person. We bake bread, we walk the dog, we worry about the bills, we are there for our children etc. etc. and in the midst of all the hurly burly of modern life we carve out portions of time to write. Sometimes our efforts are lucrative and celebratory. Sometimes our writing lives are dispiriting and frustrating. Very few writers make enough money to support themselves. That it not to say that you shouldn't do it but it is not a quick fix. For most ordinary people, devoting yourself to becoming a writer means that you're in it for the long haul, rain or shine.  I think it is risky to look at writing fiction as a career path; far better to write because you absolutely love it and there is nothing you would rather do. That is when you work will come to life.

I found an excellent blog post by Howard Gardner on creativity in education (that's a whole other post!) but one sentence stuck out.

'Creativity is not an easy option'

He is absolutely right. It isn't. But I believe everyone is creative in their own way and everyone needs an outlet for that creativity, whether it is baking, gardening, painting, making music, sewing or writing to name a few. The alternative is to 'vegetate', to stop 'seeing, thinking, being'. There is nothing mysterious about being a writer and nothing particularly romantic when the cat is sick next to the keyboard!  For aspiring writers, if you have a love of words, of books, of reading, and a determination to succeed, I believe anyone can do it. But the key is patience. We are all prone to being too hard on ourselves. We are often in too much of a hurry. My advice is not to expect too much too soon and one day, when someone asks what you do, you will be able to say with absolute pride, 'I am a writer'.

Thank-you for reading. I hope you get the chance to do something wonderfully creative this week.

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