Saturday, 30 May 2009

Yeah, write: N M Browne

I have spent the last week talking about work, but not actually doing any; I’ve been swanning around being ‘a writer.’ I quite like this as it makes me feel self important and wise and because I can temporarily forget the fact that I am currently stalled on the actual putting words on the page front..
Anyway, in all the thousands of ill judged words that have dribbled from my lips a very few actually made sense.

Someone asked me what I’d learned in my years as a writer. I quashed the reflexive ‘not a lot’. I battled not to pass on my top hints for the home worker ie ‘It is surprisingly easy to give yourself caffeine poisoning,' ‘ Don’t eat toast and then laugh while at your keyboard or you’ll be picking out crumbs for weeks,’ and the most helpful ‘Don’t work in your (grubby, pink fluffy) dressing gown as if you do someone you don’t wish to meet in a state of slovenly dishevelment will inevitably call.’ In the end I took a deep breath and said: ‘Don’t be a writer unless you love writing.’ This was quite sensible I thought ( though I did spoil it rather by suggesting that if they wished to be rich and famous they should maybe take up stripping or going on a reality TV show, neither of which seemed to be on the cards for that particular audience.)
I really do think that the only reason to be a writer is because you love writing, because the joys of being ‘ a writer’, even of swanning around pretending to be wise are limited and don’t pay the gas bill ( unless you use a really tiny amount of gas.) The hourly pay is rubbish, the career progression unpredictable and often in the wrong direction, and the brief moment of joy when your book is published is subsequently undermined by the frustration and despair, of no shops stocking it, no punters buying it and no critics reviewing it. You have to do it because you think it is worth doing in and of itself. I’ve also learned that it helps to be a thick skinned optimist, with either private wealth, a flexible second job, or a generous benefactor/other half but I didn’t want to depress my audience too much. I’ll stand by my one sensible comment in my flood of chat. ‘Don’t be a writer unless you love writing.’ Honestly. Why would you?


Anne Rooney said...

So true. I did once, to my later regret, say to a poor year 6 child who said she wanted to be a writer 'Don't do it. There's no money in it and it's impossibly hard. Think of something else.'

Tip: you can turn the keyboard over and the toast crumbs fall out. Try it now - you'll be surprised how many there are. And how much other stuff. Once, a paper crocodile fell out of mine.

Anne Rooney said...

PS Sorry that was so paratactic - I'm in hi-lo mode :-)