Writing is Work (and other things you need to get over)

The-joy-of-writing-1

Let’s get down to it. If you want to be a writer chances are you’ve wanted to be a writer since you read your first book/poem/play (probably a book, not many infants learn their ABC’s with Samuel Beckett).

Actually, revise that. You’ve probably wanted to be a writer since you experienced your first really good story, you know, the moment when all the hairs on your arms stood up, and you forgot where you were and who was with you, and you got the feeling that there was a lot more to this grand old life than most people realised.

And chances are that this feeling never left you. In fact as you chose your subjects at school and went on to study medicine and then became a doctor and settled down and had kids and bought a house and took out the rubbish bins and made dinner at night, that feeling followed you everywhere. It never went away.

Most people will never write so much as a tweet in their whole lives and still manage to live an extremely satisfied existence. But that’s not you. And whether or not you come to it late in life after a long career in something else, or you wrote your first play when you were five and never stopped, there are some things that you will need to get over in order to make your writing dream a reality.

  1. Yourself

The first thing to die must be your own insecurities. Easier said than done. And this is something you will have to battle every day for the rest of your writing career, because unless you have the unshakeable ego of, say, Napoleon Bonaparte, those doubts will niggle you every waking moment.

The thing is if you don’t take yourself seriously, no one else will. Don’t apologise for wanting to be a writer. Don’t apologise for thinking that you can be a writer. Don’t mumble when people ask you what you’re working on. If they don’t get it, who cares. You get it. That’s all that matters.

  1. Other people

Just to be clear, no one is going to fully understand your work except you. No one is going to care about your work like you do. When people ask how your weekend was and you say “So busy, I wrote 10 000 words, stayed up all night, so exhausted.” Not only will they mentally roll their eyes, they will immediately compare your sitting on your butt in front of a computer screen all weekend to the fact that they had to take their 8yo to three different birthday parties, their 5yo to soccer, have ten people over for dinner, walk the dog, mow the lawn, get root canal and paint the house.

They don’t give a shit and they probably never will. In fact many of them will resent you for having the courage to try and do something creative. Don’t look for encouragement in others, even in your close friends and family, because many of them will just not get it. And that’s the way it is.

  1. Time

Writing is one of the most time-consuming activities in the known universe. Even if you write 3 000 words a day (which takes most people about 5-6 hours), it will take you thirty days straight to write a 90 000 word manuscript. That’s if you literally do nothing else for a whole month. Add to that full-time work, family, weddings, funerals, sickness, appointments, birthday parties, holidays, and actually having a life (so maybe 1 hour of writing a day if you’re lucky) and it will take you around six to eight months. Add to that research, frequent slow periods, and some moments of despair/writer’s block/questioning the meaning of life, you’re looking at twelve months. Absolute minimum. For a first draft. Then comes the rewrite, editing, reworking, burning it in the backyard and starting all over again, blah blah bah.

The point is it requires serious dedication and deliberate effort to even get a first draft on paper. It will require you to stay home when everyone else is going out. You will have to miss birthdays, dinners, events, holidays, usually to the great offence of everyone around you. No one will understand because the deadline is self-directed, and people rarely respect a self-directed deadline. But if you want to write, you have to actually write. And that takes real time.

  1. Where you came from

Some people are born into artistic families. Most people aren’t. Some people are born into culturally fortunate locations where inspiration and opportunities and contacts abound. Most people aren’t. Some people get recognised in their formative years and get useful legs-up in the creative world. Most people aren’t. These are things you have little control over. But it doesn’t mean they have to stay that way.

If you need to move to a more conducive artistic environment, then do it. If you need to change who you hang around so you can get inspired, then do it. If you need to remodel so you have a useful writing space, then do it. If you need to change jobs, degrees or fields of study in order to get the input you need, then do it. Most people don’t. But you should.

  1. IMG_0512Conventions

The rules state that you have to go to school then go to uni then get a job so you have money to buy a car, get married, buy a house, have a family, go on family holidays, invest in superannuation and retire.

Thing is, you don’t.

Spending two years of your life writing a novel goes against all rational conventions. Do it anyway. You may have to delay other things in your life to get it done. Do it anyway. You may decide that you need to drop out of uni, postpone a life event, or turn down a great job to get done. Do it anyway.

Just don’t get to the end of your life never having tried.

  1. Work

Most writers will actually have to work for money for a long time before they are able to live off their writing. Some writers will never live off their writing. Work will always get in the way. You need to manage it. If you need to get a different job so that you have more time/energy/brain space to write, then do it.

Writing is work. It’s not a hobby. It’s not a fun idea to kill some time. It’s not a phase. It’s not a therapeutic exercise. It’s damn hard work and it’s no less worthy of respect than any other job.

  1. Expectations

If you write always worrying about what other people will think about this or that then you will never put a word on paper.

In order to be true to your genre, characters, story, whatever, you may need to write graphic sex scenes, violence, abuse, morally shocking behavior, drugs, mental and physical illnesses, gosh you may even have to use a four-letter word or two.

Yes, your granny might be offended. Or your colleagues/parents/friends/family. Know what? Too bad. Hey, everyone watches Game of Thrones. Even if they say they don’t.

  1. Security

There may come a time when you decide you need to spend a solid three months on your book. You may need to take unpaid leave. You may even need to quit your job. Again, no one else will understand or care. They will tell you that you’re crazy because a promotion is just around the corner, or that you’re leaving the team in the lurch, or that certain projects won’t happen if you’re not there. In the end, this is your life and your future, not theirs. Work out which one matters most.

  1. Genre

So when you decided to be a writer you thought you would be the next James Joyce. Then you started writing and you realised that all you wanted to write about was guns and car chases. Does that make you a second-rate writer? HELL. NO.

Write what you want to write. Don’t write to win the Booker prize or the Nobel prize or to be the next J.K. Rowling. There are plenty of authors out there who are writing from ambition and I can guarantee that deep down they know they’re not being honest with themselves. I wouldn’t be surprised if some of our most lauded literary minds will lie on their deathbeds wishing they had created the next James Bond instead of ten award-winning lyrical masterpieces.

  1. Other writers

The great thing about finally owning up to your dirty little secret is that you will start to find some like-minded people. You will find workshops, seminars, competitions, writing groups, writing centres, literary fetsivals. You will find beta readers and crit partners and people who just love sharing your work and talking about it. And then you will also find people who are just plain rude or ridiculously elitist or want nothing to do with anyone else because they are the ultimate lone wolf.

In the end, writing, like any creative pursuit, is a small and competitive field and some people are in it to win and don’t care about anything else. They will resent your success and then smugly rub their success in your face. They will use you for a profile boost and then clamber over you up the literary social ladder. So find the good ones and don’t let them go. The rest? Forget them.

  1. What you could have been

Just because you can do it, doesn’t mean you should. People tell me I could have been a singer. I could have been a performer. I could have been a great music director. I could have been a great educator. I could have been a principal. I could have been an actress. I could have been an academic. That’s all great. But I have only one life. And I’m at least going to try to do what I really want to do.

And you should too.

 

Elise Janes

Passionate Prosings

To avoid dwelling on the release of a certain movie adaptation this month let’s turn our attention instead to some of the truly great novels of passion to have been penned. Whether it’s passion for vengeance, ideology, a relationship, or a quest to reclaim what was lost, these novels will stir your sanguine emotions in as many ways as Valentine’s Day.

 

Extremely Loud and Incredibly CloseELIC, Jonathan Safran Foer
A solitary young boy on a citywide quest of NYC to uncover a secret his father left behind after he perished in the World Trade Centre disaster. Less fairytale than his other novel, Everything Is Illuminated, Safran Foer brings the same childlike beauty and wisdom to an otherwise tragic story of determination, loss and yearning.

 

For Whom the Bell Tolls, Ernest Hemingway
A war narrative about fighting for ideology beyond national identity that presents concepts rather pertinent to our times. The hero Robert Jordan struggles between conflicting pulls of duty and new love, raising questions about the heroism of wartime death versus the loss such death leaves behind.

 

Gone with the Wind, Margaret Mitchell
A vast and detailed portrait of a bygone way of life that was swept away in the carnage of America’s Civil War. Though the anti-slavery revolution was a long-overdue event, one can’t help feeling some Old South nostalgia while reading about the idyllic Tara plantation. What makes the novel truly enduring, though, is the brutal depiction of Scarlett and Rhett’s selfish, tumultuous relationship.

 

Les Liasons Dangereuses, Pierre Choderlos de Laclos
An epistolary novel about seduction, manipulation and degradation, it was said to have been written in order to undermine the illusive virtue of the Ancien Régime in the decades leading up to the French Revolution. Whether or not this is true, the deception and debauchery of the two central characters would shock even the writers of The Bold and the Beautiful.

 

Les Misérables, Victor Hugo
Disdained by critics in its day, this epic went on to become one of the most popular tomes of all time. Spanning more than a decade and a vast array of characters and personal tales, Les Misérables is as much about obsessive duty, loyalty and personal justice as it is about love and loss.

 

Lolita, Vladimir Nabokov
This novel scarce needs introduction. The tale of a sexually stunted man falling for a much younger girl and the pedophilic scenes that ensue are shocking on their own but the tragicomic irony, pathos and cultural observations that construct its clever frame make this novel one of the greatest literary accomplishments of the 20th century.

 

220px-MusicAndSilenceMusic & Silence, Rose Tremain
A beautifully written and lushly depicted novel set in the 17th century court of Denmark’s King Christian IV. Far from being historical, the novel undulates between various time periods and points-of-view to weave several narratives into a fascinating and semi-fantastical Reformation world. Obsession with music and the elusive ‘perfect’ melody form the driving tension and strongest character thread.

 

Norwegian Wood, Haruki Murakami
A story of sexuality and young love in 1960s Japan, it is the novel that made Murakami a household name. Exploring the protagonist’s nostalgic reminiscences on his relationships with two vastly different women, the novel pointedly depicts the Tokyo student protests as ill-aimed and listless.

 

The Count of Monte Cristo, Alexander Dumas
Dumas’s ridiculously famous novel of injustice and revenge, complete with escapes from island dungeons, discovered fortunes, assumed identities, daring deceptions, and classic sword fights. What takes this beyond a simple adventure story is Dumas’s exploration of the wide-reaching effects of one man’s obsessive quest for vengeance.

 

The Godfather, Mario Puzo
The notorious ruthlessness of the Sicilian mafia is distilled and brought violently to life in Puzo’s Corleone family epic. Eccentric characters, short fuses and familial pride lead to fatal power struggles across the five families of New York City. Again, it is the human element that makes this story so good, as we watch the slow mutation of Michael into the Don he never wanted to be.

 

The Graduate, Charles Webb
An interesting and ironic examination of youthful aimlessness particularly relevant to the new college culture of 1960s America. The protagonist is equal parts aggravating and charming as he wavers unemotionally between pleasurable past-times and trying to decide what to do with his life. It is more the lack of passion that sets this novel apart and makes its climax that much more complete.

 

The Great Gatsby, F Scott Fitzgerald
The novel centres on Gatsby’s life-long obsession with Daisy Buchanan, but it is narrator Nick Carraway’s compulsive fascination with Gatsby and his lifestyle that keeps us reading and allows Fitzgerald to unpack the peculiar details of Jazz Age depravity that echo at once beautiful and vulgar, and ever so inviting.

 

the-red-and-the-blackThe Red and the Black, Stendhal
Another little-disguised satire on French culture in the 19th century, Stendhal’s Bildungsroman follows Julien Sorel from a peasant upbringing through his attempts at overcoming the social restrictions of the time. Littered with superficial love affairs, the narrative is distinct in its dealings with social hypocrisy and political manipulation.

 

Wuthering Heights, Emily Bronte
The immortal story of Heathcliff and Catherine set amidst the desolate moors of northern England is stark in its obsessive brutality and the almost animalistic behaviour of the central characters. A novel of painstaking vengeance and misery with a lost, twisted love story at the centre. Satisfying on so many levels.

 

Elise Janes