Being a Writer.
People sometimes ask me on courses ‘when can I call myself a writer’ and I always say – and very firmly believe – that the moment you write something you are a writer. Some people, after all, are happy just to write for themselves or for close friends/family and why not? The question, maybe, is ‘when can I call myself a professional writer’ and for that you do need to earn money from your work.
I sometimes think that as writers we feel a bit apologetic about wanting to earn cold hard cash, as if it somehow sullies our art. That’s stupid, though. After all, Shakespeare wasn’t slow to take payment for his plays! And if Wayne Rooney is paid such a fortune for creating drama (or, indeed, failing to create drama) with his feet, then why should we not also be rewarded for our stories? Besides, there’s nothing quite like someone buying your story/novel/poem/play to make you feel it’s worth something and that, frankly, makes you feel fantastic. Plus, we all need to eat.
The problem, perhaps, comes when we have to earn money by other means whilst we wait for our JK Rowling break. It’s sometimes hard not to resent the time spent not writing, but needs must and there’s nothing like a small window to make you focus!
When my daughter was a baby my stepmum very kindly had her one day a week whilst I was released to the library down the road to write. It was a blissful freedom and a chance to use my slowly rusting mind on something more stimulating than nursery rhymes, but it was also a big pressure. I remember pacing the paths outside the library one morning in despair – I felt I had NO ideas, as if the thousands of stories forever teaming around in my head had deserted me the moment I had time to capture them on paper.
It was tough but it didn’t take me long to get on top of it, mainly by dint of keeping a notebook with ideas jotted down and, ideally, developed just far enough to tantalise me so I was keen to get going once I hit my desk. It’s a practice that has stood me in good stead over years of snatched writing time during playgroups, naps (theirs not mine), playdates and that most guilty of motherly tools – the electronic nanny. I’m sure the same is also true for people writing in lunch hours, days off and (the killer) evenings.
The key, as with so much in life, is in getting started. The blank page is a scary beast, even the blank page of a pretty new notebook (yes, like most writers I am addicted to stationery). It holds the latent threat that you’ve forgotten how to do it. I’m still convinced every single time I start a new story/chapter/episode that all writing ability will have deserted me.
I’ve just spent two gorgeous weeks on holiday. Much of it was lovely family-time but in the mornings I would wake first and lie blissfully in bed thinking about the characters and plot turns of Book 2 of my Queens of the Conquest trilogy. I’ve made lots of notes and am excited about getting started but I’m also half clinging onto the precious time before I do, just in case I simply cannot write any more. That’s especially true this time as I’m aware my lovely PanMac editor Natasha has high hopes for the book and by the time it’s finished (assuming I do get started) there will be real, live readers out there too! That’s amazing but also terrifying.
So I need to get past that blank page, At least once there are a few words written down, autopilot can hopefully take over and I can lose myself in the joys of the unfolding story rather than the terrors of the actual act of creation. Roll on September and the end of the school holidays so I can go for it.
Nowadays, with both children at school I have a much longer writing day (though I confess to yearning slightly for them both being at secondary school in just over a year’s time for an even longer one) but I still feel that being constrained for time helps me, which is a good job as I have to balance my Open University work with my magazine writing, my other teaching, and, of course, writing Book 2.
There are times when I dream of retreating to a remote island, just me and a giant notebook, but I also wonder if panic would set in again. That doesn’t mean I wouldn’t be willing to give it a try if anyone offered me an island – especially one in, say, the Caribbean – but maybe it’s actually the pressure of fitting other things in that makes my writing time so precious and so valued. I’m a tutor, a mother, a wife, a PTA member and a dog-walker and I love it, but on top of all that I’m delighted to call myself a ‘writer’ and hope others are too.
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Hope to see you soon - Joanna