Wednesday, 13 August 2014

We’re all going on a summer holiday. Except me... by Sheena Wilkinson

It’s meant to be the summer holidays and I’ve hardly left my desk. Do you miss having the whole summer off? my teacher friends ask me. (They secretly think my whole life is a holiday now, I suspect, but they’re much too nice to say so.)

It’s now a year since I became a fulltime writer. A year since my last teaching pay cheque. So I’ve been in a bit of a stock-taking frame of mind.

When I left fulltime teaching, I did worry that I might lose something very valuable to my young adult fiction – the daily contact with young people. However, this year, rather than teach a relatively narrow socio-economic group of academically able teenagers in a Belfast grammar school (where I had been for nineteen years, mostly in the same classroom), I have worked with student teachers; children in care; young offenders and ex-offenders; primary school children; adults with learning difficulties; care leavers; young people with drug and alcohol issues; in-service teachers; gifted sixth form writers, and several hundred young people of the sort I’ve always worked with. This contact has happened in schools; prisons; youth centres; Arvon; literary festivals, all over Ireland and the U.K. So – no; not lacking in contact with young people, or indeed any kind of people.

I blogged in March about the tension between finding time for writing and saying yes to projects that would bring in actual money, so I won’t dwell on this again, except to say that I’ve since found out it’s very common with freelance workers in all professions. Recent reports about the low incomes of many writers have also reassured me that I’m not alone. And as writers for young people, we are at an advantage because we tend to be offered more work in schools than ‘adult’ authors, and that has become the main source of my income.

Which means that, in a way, I do have summer holidays, because the schools are closed.
But with my diary filling up for the autumn (phew),that means I have to use the summer wisely. I know how difficult it can be to settle to writing work when it’s constantly interrupted by travel and teaching. So summer has to be catch-up time. At the start of July I set myself the challenge of completing the first draft of my work-in-progress by the end of September. This means writing 6,500 words a week. So far, so good – I’m halfway through, which is exactly where I need to be. For the last two weeks I’ve been editing my forthcoming novel, Still Falling (its third and forever title) every morning and writing new stuff in the afternoon. I wasn’t sure I could do that, and I don’t think I could do it for long, but because it’s summer, when days are long and commitments few, it’s possible.

And after all, what did I used to spend my summers doing, when I was teaching fulltime? Writing. So, though there are days when it has been a struggle to sit myself at my desk for much of the day, working with the kind of intensity that in former lives would have meant an essay crisis or exam-marking season, I console myself that there is no looming start of term for me. In fact, when the editing and the first draft are done, I may just book myself a wee holiday. When everyone else has gone back to work.


Sue Purkiss said...

Good luck with your novel, and well done for generating all that work!

Sheena Wilkinson said...

Thanks, Sue. It's been great. I wouldn't change a thing -- well, I'd accept the film deal and the translation rights if they came calling, just to be sociable.

Penny Dolan said...

Yes, that short break sounds a good idea. Sounds as though you'll need some energy for that busy term ahead.

Katherine Roberts said...

Snap, Sheena! I have set myself a deadline to finish the first draft of my paranormal romance by end September, since I'm taking up an RLF Fellowship that I expect will distract me from first draft type writing, although hopefully I'll be fine doing rewrites etc.

Though I don't normally go on holiday in the summer anyway - since I already live by the seaside!

Sheena Wilkinson said...

Today my colleagues go back to work. And of course I feel no Schadenfreude because I am Much Too Lovely.