Friday, 18 May 2012

The Toad Work - Andrew Strong


Sorry.  I can’t write this now.  I don’t have the time. I’m too distracted and I’m too tired. I just want to sleep.  If I manage to write anything, it’ll be a mess. So, if there are words below these, I’m sorry. I should have just drawn a picture. Or posted a photograph of my bed.  That would have said it all.  And I didn’t leave this to the last minute. Oh no.  I’ve sat down here several times this week to try and write something.  I wanted to write about William Hazlitt, but I couldn’t do it.  I sounded pompous and I hate pomposity.  And then I thought I’d write about Project Nim, you know, the talking chimp film. But I couldn’t arrange all the words in the right order to make any sense, or that didn’t sound clichéd.  (I hate the thought of writing something that’s hackneyed and riddled with clichés.) (Is ‘riddled with clichés’ a cliché?)

No, you can bet, however much is written here, it took hours. I spent ages on it. But every time I sat down to write, I couldn’t concentrate. Not that I’m that easily distracted. (I am very easily distracted. Please distract me. Come over. Bring a bottle.)

Every day I try and squeeze out some writing time, whether it’s for a tweet, a haiku, or if I have long enough, to get on with my children’s book.  Recently, however, I’ve found I’m so weary I can’t even compose a text.  The pressures of the day job plague me with one psychosomatic illness after another - temporary deafness, Bell’s Palsy, skin rashes, palpitations – my heart is telling me to give up and do something less demanding, but I can’t because I don’t know anything else.  I find fewer and fewer moments to write and even when I do I am so muddled and befuddled I can’t focus.

I know that I can never stop writing, so have to try and find a few hours each week to go back to my book, a masterpiece if you really want to know, editors will have pistols at dawn to sign me up, and so on and so on.  But it gets harder and harder.

How do you lot afford to live? I need at least three incomes and I live frugally.  I have two children about to begin tertiary education, and my calculations so far estimate that three years at college will cost about half a million pounds.  And that’s just what they’ll spend on booze. Add the fees and all that, and we’re into billions. 

We’re all going to have to keep working until we’re a hundred!  No Saga cruises for us. A bag of Werther’s Originals will have to last a month.

Do most writers have rich spouses or some sort of inheritance? If so, boo hoo, it’s not fair. My writing has slowed to a steamroller pace. What I’m steamrollering I don’t know. But everything looks and feels flat.

(Come to think of it, I don’t think I’ve seen a real steamroller for years.  Do they still exist?)

Sleep is one great pleasure that’s still reasonably cheap. Those last few minutes of the day I savour more than ever, and just before I turn off the light, I read, I read, I read.  I’ve never read as much. As if to make up for words I’m not writing, I have to consume words. 

The less I write, the less I reflect. I become a half-wit.  I’m already a one-third-wit. I’m not sure I know what I’m doing any more.  As Bertie Wooster said, ‘Life, Jeeves, it’s just one thing after another.’ And so it is with me. One distraction after another, one obligation followed by another, and squatting over it all, the warty palpitating day job.  Larkin called work a toad. And I think he meant his day job, not his poetry job. He was right, the old grump, work is a toad.

So what do I do? Do I give up writing, or the hope of ever writing anything any good, or do I give up my day job and spend the next ten years worrying that if I can’t support my children into adulthood they will resent my selfishness forever?

(Actually I already know the answer to this. I will not give up my job, and I will keep writing. So no need to consider this a real question.)

There we are. I’ve written something. And so it will be that I will eventually finish my book.  It will be a triumph of hope over amphibians. The toad work won’t get the better of me. 



11 comments:

catdownunder said...

Does it help at all to say that some of at least understand what you are going through? Probably not but there - I have said something too...not sure how I managed that.

Elen C said...

If it's any consolation, if they are approaching degrees, they will be in charge of their own budgets. Get one of them to be a banker or CEO and take care of you back!
More seriously, I do understand too. I work evening shifts so that I can write in the day. I find walking the dog on my day off helps, feels like a mini-holiday. And sleep, of course.

JO said...

Haven't we all had days like this!! Thank you for putting this so wittily - making us laugh is the best antidote to all those moments when it all feels impossible.

Lynda Waterhouse said...

to quote Larkin (if that's not too pretentious) there's a toad in my road too - the endless cycle of keeping the breadcrumbs on the table so that you can have time to write. Fortunately I have partner whose favourite food is left overs.There's no way I will give up - not until the masterpiece is created.Thanks for sharing.

Sue Purkiss said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Rosalie Warren said...

Andrew, keep at it. That's really all I can say.

So many of us writers know exactly what you mean. OK, some get lucky, some of the time, but mostly it's hard slog for very little reward. Except the rewards of the actual writing, and those are very difficult to keep in view at times.

Kepp at it. We will all be the poorer if you don't write your books.

Carole Anne Carr said...

You found the answer to writer's block, just right anything every day when you get up and do this for an hour without stopping, do this for a month. It's an old trick but it works.

agman said...

my first visit to your blog, really enjoyed it, amazing stay in-front of the toad

Stroppy Author said...

"A triumph of hope over amphibians" - I love that. If you wrote the whole post to get that bit, it was time well invested.

Yes, some writers have earning partners. Not fair, is it? You *can* (or least *could*) support children on writing income alone, as long as they quite like scraps and going barefoot. My waifs will confirm as much. But then the writing has to take on some toad-like aspects.

Keep going.... Life is indeed one thing after another, until there are no more things.

Nicola Morgan said...

Much sympathy and recognition. Bloody soul-destroying how hard it is to survive financially on this writing lark, and how hard it can be to keep writing.

I also find it soul-destroying being asked to do public-speaking for nothing. I say this because I'm on a train back from London to Edinburgh, after travelling to do a talk for no fee, for which I probably spent four hours prep, and answered 40 emails and two phone calls, as well as at least another hour admin, two days travelling and had to get up at 6 this morning. And paid for dog-sitting fees and food on my journeys. And I AM NOT DOING A FREE TALK AGAIN. There were 1000 people in the audience and they had all paid to come.

Somehow, we have to work out which bits of our work we want to do and which bits could earn some money and try to balance the right amounts of each.

Keep with us, Andrew!

Sarah Taylor-Fergusson said...

Do real steamrollers still exist? YES! They are always up and down our main road on their way to steam jollies in country parks. I'll ask one of them to come by your house and pick you up. It would do you the world of good to drive one over your obligations and flatten them.
Please don't stop writing. Your books are wonderful.