Thursday, 6 May 2010

Not Waving But Writing - Karen Ball

Hello, writers-I-mean-voters. By the time you read this you may have voted already, be rushing out of the door to vote, wondering where the heck you put that polling card, what time the stations stay open until, how much you remember from the live debates and - oh god! I need to pick up the dry cleaning. Voting in a general election is likely to be just one more task you squeeze into a busy day. The future of my country? I'll decide that after I've walked the dog.

We're told that MPs work an average of 85 hours a week. Another great unprovable is that women are better multi-taskers than men. Oh, please. Whoever mooted these theories clearly has never met an author. We laugh in the face of an MP's workload and shake our heads in wry dismay at any claim that multi-tasking is a gender issue. As far as I'm concerned, the people who have to spin the most plates in this world are authors and illustrators. Our profession is what we do when everything else on the 'To Do' list has been done. A room of one's own? I'd kill for an hour to myself.

Several years ago, The Society of Authors produced a statistic that the average author earns £7000pa. That's not a liveable income, so most of us are also doing another job, either full or part-time. Many of us have families, commitments, a home to run and - dare I suggest? - other interests. Weekends become a blurred concept for a writer. That's when I do my writing. So does that mean I'm working seven days a week or indulging my interests in my spare time? It's a fine line sometimes, especially when a deadline is pressing. There's often an assumption that authors and illustrators will work weekends when schedules are being drawn. That Christmas is a great opportunity to nail a revised draft or that Bank Holidays are God's way of stopping you from going insane. Great! Another day for that rewrite. Of course, this flexibility is also the beauty of the craft. Some of us love writing in the wee small hours and wouldn't have it any other way. 9-5? Hell will freeze over first.

But, still. It's a lot to juggle, isn't it? Today I have to blog, vote, drag a suitcase to the office with me, do a morning's work, run to catch a train, do some work on the train, then... Ahhhh. Catch a plane, lie in the sun, read novels (for fun, not research!), drink cocktails, do nothing. Oh dear. I can see boredom on the horizon. A few days into my holiday, I'll probably start thinking about my next manuscript. I've already decided to pack my netbook for the break. Might I become the mad woman in large hat and sunglasses, squinting at a monitor when all around are sipping their Tequila Sunrises?

It's an affliction, you see, this itch to write. Why else would we do this to ourselves? I love being a writer almost as much as I enjoy being a martyr. Now, where did I put that polling card...

Do you squeeze writing in alongside another job? Do your children moan about monopoly of the family PC? It's not just me, is it?

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catdownunder said...

Er...could someone please tell me what a 'holiday' is? I 'write' when I am pedalling to the next meeting or under the shower or getting the next meal and then, if I am lucky, I get to scribble it between reading ABBA and looking after Nicola Morgan's (fictional) cat!

Stroppy Author said...

That Society of Authors figure of £7000 pa is tricky, isn't it? I think it would be more useful if they gave a figure for people who ONLY write (or primarily write) as well. After all, does a writer earn only £7000 because that's all s/he can earn from writing, or because s/eh is off earning another £60,000 as a banker the rest of the time and only writing at weekends?

I would say I 'only' write - but I also bring up two children alone, run a large house (very badly) and, until recently, managed a reltaionship with a non-resident life-partner. But I don't have a day job besides writing. I still write at holidays and weekends because there is no such thing as a holiday if you are self-employed - no one pays you to lie on a beach (or be ill). Flexibility is essential, whether you are a full-time writer or a writer in the gaps with another job. The difference, I suppose, is in how much writing you do (and how much you have to do, in order to live). But we all have to juggle....

Linda Strachan said...

Yes, juggling is the problem. Sometimes it seems easier than others. Writing, in your head, takes up all the little spaces when you are not actually writing, living, coping with house and family and all the other things in life.
Sometimes actual writing gets shunted to the bottom of the list, a problem with me lately, and needs to be extracted and put back at the top.
But even when I am struggling to put it first I am still thinking, talking about it and desperate to get back to writing.
Writing is a sentence, a life sentence - but I still love it!

So off now to stop this and get writing.

karen ball said...

Ha! Linda - I love your comment about writing being a life sentence.

Andrew Strong said...

Karen, a few weeks ago I had a sequence of dental appointments. They weren't particularly pleasant, but when they were over, I began missing those sessions in the big chair. And I know why: I was compelled to do nothing. Sitting still isn't easy is it? What's wrong with us?