Sunday, 20 February 2011

Being a writer sucks!

Whether you're an impoverished student driven by art and creativity, or a bestselling writer with a series of successful film adaptations living in a mansion in California, writing sucks. It sucks in a myriad of ways that never go away, regardless of how successful you are, or how many times you've been on the Richard & Judy book club. The hours are long, the pay and conditions are terrible, and your boss keeps muttering words of discouragement to you under his or her breath. If there were a union, we'd all be on the phone to it right now.

Last winter, I was complaining about the need to wear fingerless gloves to work. People who do normal jobs (hello Librarians, hello office workers) get to work in lovely warm offices. The heating is always on; not for them the indignity of working in a room where ice drips from the ceiling, nor the need to drink endless cups of tea to keep hands and fingers warm enough to stay mobile. Only the writer, working as romantic tradition has decreed she must, works in an upstairs garrett room with icicles forming on the end of her nose, and the wind whistling through her hair. Readers, for the writer, a harsh winter can be hell.

But I've discovered something worse than writing in winter, and do you know what it is? Yes, that's right: writing in summer.

Writing in summer is the grown-up equivalent of taking a GCSE on a balmy summer's day. As you sit at your desk, worry crowding your head and your pens lined up neatly on the wood before you, you gaze longingly out of the sports' hall window at the golden fields of wheat bending in the breeze, reflecting hot yellow in the sunlight. Children, playing joyously with hula hoops and paddling pools, taunt you with their carefree enjoyment of the beautiful day. And where are you? Indoors, trying to write a bloody novel.

Only a lunatic would attempt writing outdoors. There are wasps out there. And you can't see, anyway; no matter where you sit, the sun is going to bounce off your laptop screen and BLIND YOU. And in any case, most writers, unfortunate owners of that occupational writing hazard the bad back, can't write without a desk. All those hours hunched over scribbling in notebooks or on napkins balanced on their knees have done for their back and shoulders. You cannot take your desk outside. It makes you look mad.

And yet we still all do it, and why? When we have a sneaking suspicion that nobody will ever love us, and when we worry that our books will end up crowding out the shelves of the local charity shops like so much Da Vinci Code? We do it because even though being a writer sucks and YOU, yes YOU will never be as rich or as successful as Dan Brown or Doris Lessing or even Julie Otsuka, we're compelled. We love it and we're driven and we can't stop ourselves.

Now stop looking longingly out of that window and get on with it.

This week, I have:

Finished planning for FICTIONS OF EVERY KIND: CUTS
Begun my first rewrites of a new draft
Worked on preparing a first chapter for a first chapter competition
Knitted a bit of a cardigan.


  1. Good post this, SJ. Agree with every word... except the end about never being successful... as writers, we must dream... always...

  2. Hey Col, thanks! Good to hear from you, as always.

    I have a sneaking suspicion that every writer harbours insecurity - regardless of how many books they sell, or how critically acclaimed they are. I wouldn't be surprised to find out that someone like (for example) Dan Brown compares himself negatively to someone like JK Rowling every now and again, when he's having a dark moment. "Why haven't I made as much money as her?" he'd probably thinks to himself. "I must be a COMPLETE FAILURE".

    You're right though, we do have to dream. And it doesn't hurt to have a supportive cheerleading team either!