The Writing Life
It would have surprised me, I’m sure to learn when young, how little writing the writing life involves. A rough breakdown of my own would be:
Concertedly thinking about what I might write – 5%
Feeling bad that something I thought I might write has not worked out – 5%
Feeling bad that I have no clear idea of what I want to write – 10%
Revisiting unfinished projects/pieces/chapters in vain hope they might come to life – 15%
Writing – 5%
Wandering aimlessly around Poundland – 20%
Sweeping the kitchen floor – 30%
It would be nice to think that some of the writing related thoughts were percolating whilst I was gliding the Poundland aisles or brushing the floor for the fourteenth time of the morning, but I can absolutely assure you they aren’t. There’s one thing you can say about me: I devote 100% of my focus to the task in hand.
Every day for me starts with a list. As this technically involves use of a pen I feel that even if nothing more gets done I can truthfully say I have written. The list combines domestic and literary goals for the day. I’m not sure if this is to make my writing tasks seem less daunting, or to elevate hanging up the washing to the level of aesthetic endeavor, but it’s exactly this kind of lame psychological trick, perpetrated by myself on myself, at which I have become most adept over the years.
In your writing life you are your own boss. This is not great if the kind of worker you are is lazy and insubordinate. It’s even worse if the kind of boss you are is basically a demotivating, despairing colossal catastrophe-monger.
The key lesson I’ve learned during my writing life is the need to shield the boss from the truth. The boss needs to believe I’m working on something all the time so where’s the harm in letting her believe that? In the past, if I had an idea for something I tended to interrogate it under fluorescent strip lights for half a day until it cracked and revealed itself to be weak then I’d run and tell the boss. Now, when I have an idea, I go gentler, I let it be, I don’t look at it too closely or too soon. When the boss comes by I shout inanely positive statements whilst punching the air. I even try and high-five her as she passes but she leaves me hanging. When she’s gone, the idea and I exchange a look and breathe a sigh of relief. Of course the day comes when the idea really does have to be tested and stretched and poked, but I try and postpone that until another idea has come along to either reinforce or replace the original one.
The writing life is one in which you have to protect yourself carefully, because no one else is going to.