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Monday, 2 March 2015

What Are Writers Like?

I've read three things about writers over the last couple of weeks.


1. "Writers are like fleas, they get very little nourishment from each other."
    So said John Dos Passos, the Chicago born, radical American novelist.                  
    This quote was repeated in an article by Tim Lott about the loneliness of
     being a writer and given a staunch rebuttal by children's writers Helen Grant
     and Lydia Syson.


2.  "All writers are vain, selfish and lazy..."
     This one is from George Orwell and was  also discussed in The Guardian by Julian
      Baggini


3.   60% of people in Britain picked author as their dream job. This was the result
      of a YouGov poll of 15,000 people.


So two negatives and one positive.


What a sad indictment of my profession the first quote is - if it is true. But in my experience it is just not the case. Up until now I have written mainly for children and the authors I have met over the years have been friendly, generous, encouraging and yes, nourishing. It is their words, their stories, their example which has kept me going when times got tough. We are not forever looking over our shoulders worrying that there is someone else ready to steal our ideas or our story. Given the same title we would all write something different. We recognise that. We recognise that there is room for all of us to succeed, maybe not at the same time or in the same way, but that is when the nourishment is needed and maybe I am luckier than most but it has been readily given.


A couple of years ago I could have thought that it was just children's writers who exist in this lucky environment. But then I started writing an adult novel and began to attend local meetings of the Romantic Novelists' Association. I was welcomed with open arms and again have found warmth and generosity.


As for vanity, that may be the case in some instances and I have met a few writers who were a bit 'up themselves'! But for most of us I suspect it is less vanity more insecurity which leads us to chase publication. We crave recognition because it justifies the time we have spent at the keyboard. Writing just for yourself sounds self-indulgent in a world where we are programmed to do rather than to be. For me as a writer there is also the hope that I will give someone pleasure, a space in their day to shut out the pressures of daily life and immerse themselves in a story. Is that vanity? Maybe it is but most writers will tell you that they are constantly on the see saw with their inner critic, trying to find that balance between being happy with what they have written and judging it to be complete rubbish, hand hovering over the delete button.


So, to the dream job. In The Guardian last year it was reported that 54% of traditionally published writers and 80% of authors going it alone earned less than £600 per year. When people state being an author as their dream job I suspect they have been swayed by newspaper reports of huge advances given to some authors. I suspect they do not include within that dream, the job insecurity and increasing difficulty of being able to earn a living. But I also suspect what appeals about the job of being an author is the freedom to choose your own working hours and the ability to work from home rather than struggling with traffic, public transport and untenable working hours. The reality is however that most authors will have other jobs or a partner who can support them financially as they chase their dream. This is not to be discouraging. I think it's fantastic that there are so many people out there who want to be writers. There is absolutely nothing else I would rather do.


To quote Colin Powell;-


"A dream doesn't become reality through magic; it takes sweat, determination and hard work."


Maybe it takes a little vanity too but whatever our dreams we need to nourish ourselves and others. That way we don't just get to celebrate when our own dreams come true but when the dreams of others do too.


Thank-you for dropping by. Have a great week.


p.s. I've had some dream news in the last few weeks. Last Chance Angel has been short-listed for the Kernow Youth Book Awards in Cornwall and No Going Back has been short-listed for the Northamptonshire Children's Choice Book Awards and The Sheffield Book Awards.




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1 comment:

  1. Oh, that's wonderful news about Last Chance Angel! Really well deserved, though, because it's a particularly special book. Do you get to go to Cornwall? And Northampton?!

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