Thursday, 9 January 2014

"When do you find time to write?" (Anne Rooney)

 Last year was a busy year - it's still busy. It started, as usual, with continuing family health problems that took a lot of time as hospital-taxi service, worrying, and preparing food that might not make matters worse. But then it took a different, and very unexpected, turn. My young daughter fell pregnant. So the rest of the year passed in a blur of pregnancy care (it wasn't a straightforward pregnancy) with a lot more hosptial-taxiing and, at the same time, building a large extension for the three of them to live in.

The lovely baby was born just before Christmas and their living space will be finished this month, all being well. At the moment, I'm sleeping in an attic room and the house is still full of displaced things and builders (not displaced builders, usually - though there might be one under that pile of books and taps). This is all so much stuff, and I'm only telling you about it because several non-writing acquaintances have asked:

"When do you find time to write?"

Even bishops need to eat
I'm sure if I were a surgeon or a teacher or a miner no one would ask how I find time to work.

For one thing, there's no choice. Writing is my job. It's where our money comes from. If I don't write, we don't eat. And we certainly don't build huge extensions. There's a persistent, entrenched belief that writing is somehow not real work, something that is fitted in around other bits of life, only done when there is time and inspiration, and - perhaps more understandably, given that starting point - is something that people don't really have to be paid for doing. And, to be honest, they might as well ask, "When do you find time to breathe?" Because people who write, also write because they have to.

But loving your work, or considering it a vocation, was never a reason for thinking surgeons, teachers and bishops shouldn't be paid.

We've seen a lot of comments recently in the press and online that people will still write even if they are not paid, because they enjoy writing. It's true up to a point. I would still write if I wasn't paid for it and had to do some other work. But I wouldn't write as much, and I wouldn't put as much time into honing and perfecting it (because I couldn't do the research if I was doing something else all day), and it wouldn't be as good if I didn't have the help of an editor. The people who can't see why writers should fuss about money rather than write in their spare time also only ever think of novelists sitting at home, 'penning' (you can tell a rubbish, unthought-out article about writing because it uses 'penning' at least once) made-up stuff about non-existent people, never pausing to do a speck of research but probably snuggled under a cat and nursing a cup of tea.  Yes, people might well do that if they weren't paid. It sounds quite nice (except the tea). That's not what being a writer is, though.

Amy Johnson's plane Jason - part of my research for my story in
Daughters of Time, edited by Mary Hoffman, Templar, March 2014
Would people undertake a year of research to make sure their historical novel/political thriller/war story/science story was accurate? Would they visit museums and talk to experts (at their own expense)? Only those with leisure and spare cash. Some people have that. Perhaps they have a partnr who earns and can support them. Perhaps they are retired. Perhpas they inherited a lot of money or won the lottery. Some novels would get written.

But who would write all the other books? Would anyone use their spare time to write school texts or how-to books or self-help books or film scripts or any of the many, many other types of writing that aren't novels? And how would that work? Would I be paid on the days I write about evolution and not on the days I write fiction? What about fiction with a special purpose, such as being part of a reading scheme or for reluctant readers? Is that something I'd be expected to write for free, or is that paid writing?

It really is a very silly premise that we can leave writing to people who don't need to be paid for it and can 'find time to write'. Apart from anything else, it means that being a writer becomes an occupation only available to those who already have enough money, and who are time-rich. They aren't always going to be the most interesting voices, especially for young people - at least, not if ALL books are by that set. We need to reward people from all backgrounds and life situations who can write well, need to recognise that their talent and time have value. Because then all those voices can be heard and that benefits readers. Readers are what writing for publication is about.

Starving in a garret for your art doesn't always end well
 I'm not saying that anyone owes writers a living. Of course, to make a living you have to write something that people want to read. But if they want to read it, and publishers can make money from it, then the writer should be paid well enough that they can afford to write it, and the public should recognise that it takes effort. It's not a little hobby squeezed in amongst shopping, cat-feeding and spending hours in the bath.

It's a job. For some people, it's a part-time job. For some people, still learning, it's an apprenticeship or even an unpaid internship. Of course we all put time into learning the craft and breaking in when we are not paid, just as someone training to be a lawyer or a pharmacist spends years training. And the training for writing is, generally, writing things that don't sell - but you learn. You do your 10,000 hours and perhaps at the end your work is good enough (as in, saleable in the marketplace - this isn't about literary quality). And then you should earn money from doing it. That's how work works. You 'find' time to do your job and you're paid for it. End of.

Anne Rooney
aka Stroppy Author 
Coming soon: "Colours of the Day", in Daughters of Time, edited by Mary Hoffman, Templar, 1st March 2014. Daughters of Time is an anthology of 13 short stories for readers aged 9+, written by members of the History Girls blog.


Joan Lennon said...

Thank you! It needs saying!

Pippa Goodhart said...

Absolutely! But it isn't always just non-writers who perceive the job of writing as something other than a job. Sometimes us writers indulge in thinking we don't have to graft at it as we should.

Peggy Shaw said...

Savita Kalhan said...

People often ask me how many hours I write in a day, and then they're shocked when I tell them. I think they think I sit around drinking cups of tea all day... I hope you have a less busy year in terms of hospital trips, Anne, and more time to write.

Clémentine Beauvais said...

another fabulous fabulous blog post.

sensibilia said...

How wonderful to welcome a new baby into the family!

Interesting and useful words on the main topic. I trained for three years for my profession, working full-time and studying in the evenings and at weekends. So I figured I should expect to take at least 3 years to learn to write something saleable.

I'm half-way through that period, but I certainly don't spend 50 plus hours a week on writing. It's hard to concentrate and be creative for long spells. In fact, sometimes I think it's going to make me go mad spending too much time inside my head. Does anyone else know that feeling?

Stroppy Author said...

Sensibilia, I rarely spend 50 hours a week writing. There are other parts of the job including research, checking proofs, editing, doing invoices, answering emails...I aim to work 35-40 hours a week, but it's not all putting down new words!

You're right, Pippa - sometimes writers can make things worse.

Penny Dolan said...

Good hard view of a professional writing life.

Nick Green said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Nick Green said...

It was a silly question. My first child was born in 2005 and the second in 2009. Overlapping with those two babyhoods I wrote three-and-a-bit novels, and I also have a full-time day job. It's possible to get a lot more done in a day than many people realise.

adele said...

Ace post!