Thursday, 15 November 2012

Life as a writer - why (oh why) do we do it?

Disappointed writer

 I put this question to myself once every three months or so - usually when things aren't going too well. Why, why, why do I do it? Write, I mean - and all the stuff that goes with it.

I guess it has to be for love or something similar. It's certainly not for money. I've no wish to be a millionaire, though something in the way of royalties and PLR is always welcome. I suppose there's habit in there too. I write because it's what I do. To be honest, I think it's a kind of addiction. If I don't write for more than a few days, I feel dissatisfied and grumpy (just ask my family... though they might claim that I'm sometimes like that when I'm writing, too).

What part of writing, then, am I addicted to? I suppose it's those rare 'first draft' moments when everything goes well - when your characters take hold and run away with the plot and you're left struggling to keep up. For me, it's particuklarly those times when I feel fully tuned in to the thoughts and words (especially the words) of my characters, and I'm evaesdopping on their conversation, racing to get down every word they say. I think that's why I need silence when I write - I can't even stand good music in the background - because anything else distracts me from the voices in my head.

And that joy when you wake in a morning and realise that your brain has solved a knotty plot problem while you slept (though I realise this phenomenon isn't confined to writers). It's always a thrill, to be reminded that your conscious mind play a relatively minor part in what you create, and to realise that the brain has its own concerns you never even dreamt of.

Jumping ahead a few months (or years) - another wonderful thing is those times when your readers, especially children and young adults, tell you that they have read and enjoyed your books. And perhaps even better, when they ask you searching questions that make you realise that they have truly engaged with your characters and themes, perhaps in ways you never anticipated.

But there are also times when the whole process is so discouraging that you wonder why you go on. I'm in one now, in some respects. A project for young readers that I'm involved in is... not so much in peril as changing course, and my role in it may end up being rather different from what I expected. It's disappointing and frustrating, especially as I have no idea when the project will come to fruition. And I feel somewhat flattened - maybe I shouldn't, but I do. It's so easy, as writer, to lose confidence in your abilities. A bad review can run over you like a steamroller, in a way that you would never have expected. Being told by an editor: 'No, that's not what I want...' can take you back to being an eight-year-old at school, being sent away to do your homework all over again.

And, of course, in the early stages of a writer's career (and sometimes in the later stages, too), there are the inevitable knockbacks from agents, publishers, etc. There's the agent who gets all excited by your work and leads you to think she's about to take you on, but then changes her mind.  Even once you're published, there are (or can be, unless you're very lucky), those miserable afternoons sitting at a table in a bookshop, while no one stops to buy. There are the publishers who sign you up and then go out of business - or who decide that your books are not selling in Harry Potter quantities so they are going to pull the plug on you. It's all too depressing to think about.

Etc, etc, etc. Yes, I know that life itself can be a depressing business. And I know that there are (there really are) much more important things in life than publishing contracts. I really do know that! But it doesn't always help as much as perhaps it should.

What I will say, though, is that if you can keep writing when all around you is disappointment and despair, then you may just have it in you to be a writer. Whatever the 'it' is - I'm not quite sure. I suspect it's a kind of madness, but I wouldn't be without it. What's more, I'm very thankful to all those writers of wonderful books who have kept going in the face of discouragement and produced work, maybe, that would never have surfaced otherwise.

So let's take heart and struggle on in our communal craziness. Knowing you are not alone always helps - and I must say that reading this blog is one of the main things that assures me I am not alone and helps me to keep going.

I recently wrote a travesty of Rudyard Kipling's 'If' along these lines, if you'd care to take a peep here.

Best wishes - and don't let anything (or anyone) stop you writing.

Author of Coping with Chloe (age 11+ approx).
My Facebook author page
My website


Patsy said...

'it's what I do" - that's why I write.

Anonymous said...
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Julie Sykes said...

The 'it' is definitely madness.

Hope you get over your down patch soon, Rosalie. I swear being a writer is like riding a roller coaster. The lows are dire but the highs are amazing There's also nothing in between. You're either up or down. Addictive though, isn't it?


Anonymous said...

I have had some tough times lately and I find my writing is my anchor, especially my poems.
I can out a lot of my angst in those and it helps plus the odd glass of wine :)

Rosalie Warren said...

You're right, Shirley, the writing (sometimes) can actually help the madness that is the rest of life. And so can the odd glass of wine :-) And chocolate...

Patsy, absolutely, yes!

And thanks, Julie. I agree about the lows and highs, and the addiction.

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Lucy said...

I'm in a place like that at the moment, utterly convinced that what I'm doing is pointless. Except I suddenly had an idea for a short children's story yesterday and I can't stop thinking about it, so hopefully - hopefully - I'll spend tomorrow on fire!

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Rosalie Warren said...

Lucy, very best of luck with your story. More than anything, I hope it will remind you why you love to write. Have fun!

CallyPhillips said...

Your blog is the best advert for indie writing/publishing I can think of at the moment. Sadly all the editor and publishing thing NEVER goes away because their main goal for the whole thing IS money so we are at odds from the start. Writers have to have serious confidence in themselves to stand up against the 'business' side of it. Stay free is my advice - it won't help pay bills but it will surely help the mental state of 'being a writer.'

Lexia said...

I agree with all that has been said here.As we know, writing is not a case of just physically writing or typing words and sentences. There's a great deal of mind work going on before the first word appears. I think /hope you are feeling a bit better now about your writing. The downs more often than not turn into ups when you are least expecting them. Best wishes as always,x
(ps -I think you are getting spam comments in the guise of 'Anonymous' Best to moderate comments rather than let all be published. It happened on my blog too)