Wednesday, 23 February 2011

Writing is sort of what I do

I have this waking nightmare. I'm on 'The Weakest Link' and I have to tell Anne Robinson what I do for a living. When I say that I'm a writer, she collapses with derisive laughter.
    Once upon a time I was a book editor. People understood that. That was a proper job. It was almost normal. It was a bit like being a journalist, or a pop-record producer, wasn't it? The fact that I was freelance however provoked some confusion.
    'But how do you discipline yourself? How do you stop wasting time or doing housework?'
    The honest answer would have been, 'I've never been one for either wasting time, or doing housework. I'd rather be editing,' but that might have provoked further confusion, so what I usually said was, 'Money.' That was the right answer. That, people understood.
    Then I moved on to writing non-fiction books (New Age Encyclopaedia, Gothick Devon, The Natural Way: Infertility, A Glimpse of Dartmoor: Folklore). Sometimes I told people, sometimes I didn't. Sometimes I pretended I was still a book editor. The trouble was, while I earned some money from the books, I never made a proper living from them. I always had to supplement my income. It was hard for me to believe that I was a writer, let alone anyone else.
    Then the situation got even worse. I became bored with non-fiction. I wanted to write a novel. (Yuk. Grody. Finger down throat.) I tried to legitimise it by doing a nine-month novel-writing course at the local arts centre. I was having a 'sabbatical'. I was a 'mature student'.
    'Ooh, you'll be the next J K Rowling,' people would say to me.
    I don't think so. I found the process excruciatingly difficult. Either I sat in bed and cried because I had no ideas or I sat in bed and wrote rubbish. At the end of the course I did have a novel, yes, but I wouldn't have dreamt of inflicting it on the public.
    You'd think I would have learnt my lesson, wouldn't you. But no. I wanted to try again. This time the novel turned out to be an autobiography. At least I didn't have any problem with the plot or the characters or the setting or the dialogue - or any of it in fact. It poured out of me in two weeks flat. But who wants to read the autobiography of a nobody? And I had my friends and family to think of. I probably would have been left with neither.
    So now I'm trying again again - with another novel.
    I must be mad.
    I've tried sticking post-it notes around the house on all my favourite places - the mirror, the fridge, above the bed, on my computer screen - with the words 'I am a writer' on them, or even 'I am a fabulous writer'. But it doesn't work. I'm not convinced. I can still hear Anne Robinson slaughtering me with a few well-chosen put-downs.
    So now I don't tell people anything. I let them think I'm a lady of leisure. It's less shameful than being a penniless would-be writer.
    So why the heck do I do it?
    The answer is, I don't know. I don't seem to have any choice in the matter. And it's better than the alternative.
    A bit like marriage, some might say. But that's another story.

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