Saturday, 24 June 2017

Eight unintended consequences of becoming a writer by Tracy Alexander

1 I cannot scribble a note.
I cannot scribble a note anymore. I have to craft it. Whether it’s to the window cleaner, the DHL delivery man or a neighbour. The bliss of rattling off a badly worded but nonetheless effective piece of communication is lost to me. I can still write badly worded pieces of communication with aplomb, but I cannot make myself part with them without an edit. Or two.

2 Writing a heartfelt card has become debilitating.
I feel as though I am expected to be able to express difficult emotions with grace and clarity. I cannot do this. I write all tricky passages for the interiors of cards several times in rough before I do the real thing. Even then, when the card is sealed in its paper envelope, I worry that I have not done well enough. As a sixteen-year old I sent my aunt a card when her mother died. She read it aloud at the funeral. It was unselfconscious and sincere. Where has that gone?

3 The expectation is that I know and love all ‘classics’.
I do not know the plots of Shakespeare’s plays or Jane Austen’s novels. I studied maths, physics and chemistry and then a science degree. Reading has always been a massive part of my life but my formative years were spent with The Women’s Press, not Penguin. I like Jack Reacher, not Mr Darcy. And Tom Ripley, not Shylock. My heroine is Myra from The Women’s Room, not Catherine Earnshaw (although Kate Bush taught me about her). People talk to me as though I am learned in the field of literature. I have been known to play along. Excruciating.

4 a More people talk to me at parties.
I used to work in financial services. People tried to get away. But being a writer is a job people aspire to and that makes me both exactly the same person I was before and much more interesting than I was before.

4 b People I talk to at parties expect to have heard of me.
Success is a loaded term. I don’t feel unsuccessful, but when no one you meet has ever read one of your books it’s hard to keep the faith. Having said that, most partygoers only know the name of a handful of children’s authors so I won’t care. And I'm not writing for them anyway.

5 There is no weekend.
No one in my house has a Monday to Friday job with regular hours. No one goes to school anymore. For many people, ‘looking forward to the weekend’ signifies a change from the weekday routine. We have no routine. Whilst this has many upsides, it means that I have a constant whisper urging me into the study. (I realise I could declare my own ‘weekend’ but discipline isn’t a word I enjoy.)

6 Everything is a story.
I am guilty of imagining everyone’s lives in print. It has developed into a kind of filter where real people become characters for me to manipulate. This doesn’t seem helpful. (Or in fact something to admit.)

7 I am asked to write all sorts.
Friends’ websites, invitations to the street party, performance poetry for celebrations, letters to the council, pithy conclusions from research findings for my clever friend whose English is charming but not conventional (it's her second language.) I am not always equipped for these tasks but they keep coming.

8 I have a (small) network of fellow writers.
I’ve been writing for a dozen years and have crossed paths with many interesting folk. One of the joys of the friendships I’ve made is that they are separate from the rest of my life, not grounded in family, school or my previous work. It’s a bonus to develop a new multi-flavoured faction of great friends in your forties and beyond.  
I am Bristol based. When my first short story was aired on BBC Radio 4 Helen Dunmore sent a note via a mutual friend asking whether I would like to meet up. For ten years we drank coffee at the Boston Tea Party near her office and what started as benevolence became  a lovely friendship. In the many obituaries of Helen her generosity to other writers has been mentioned. I think perhaps more writers should follow her lead.


Susan Price said...

Yes, I recognise most of that.
But I love having no routine! Every morning I can decide whether to work on writing or in the garden or on admin - or abandon it all and go away somewhere. Or I can read all day and start work at 11pm, work through until 4am. It's great.

Hilary Hawkes said...

A lot of that sounds familiar. On balance, I'm not sure I would change that much though :)

Sue Purkiss said...

How lovely to have known Helen Dunmore! I saw her in the audience at an event a couple of years ago, but was too shy to go up and tell her how much I admired her work. Stupid.

Chitra Soundar said...

Hi Tracy - this is so true. Especially the one on classics and writing greeting cards . There's so much pressure. Thanks for sharing.

Lynne Benton said...

Great post, Tracy - and I do so agree about the weekends, and always feeling slightly guilty if I'm not working on my current WIP! But one of the best things about being a writer is having writer friends who understand.

sara gethin said...

Yes, that's me too - great post, Tracy!