A little something to consider before you chuck it all in to write the Next Great Novel.
If I had a pound for every time someone’s said “ooh, it must be lovely to write full time” … I’d have a lot of pounds. (That’s a lot. Not alot. Just saying.)
First off, it’s not about a place in Tuscany, and it’s not about a little place with a sea view, and it’s almost never about a country cottage that you can rush off to and plot and plan to your heart’s delight – it’s almost always about working from home. (Actually, I do know three people who have this – one each. That’s it. Three. Of maybe two hundred writers.)
Being your own boss (an interesting concept as publishing is changing so rapidly right now) means giving over a room or a table or a corner of your home to your work, never being ‘off’, never feeling like you can fully get away from it, never switching off on Friday night and forgetting about work until Monday morning. It means doing your own accounts, your own IT and cleaning your own workspace (no office cleaners here!). It means no holiday pay and no sick pay. No sabbaticals. No compassionate leave. No company pension. No company-paid training courses. No paintballing (phew).
Right now, in our house, it means dealing with next door’s builders hammering and smashing against our walls and waking up to a new surprise of scaffolding or another place where the noise is coming from every day. The new-ish neighbours have failed to provide us with either a schedule of works or any plans to what they’re having done, so we can organise our work around their work. Foolishly, we signed their party wall agreement in trust and hope that they would be helpful and friendly. Hey ho, you live and learn. (I blame Sarah Beeny myself. Enough with the re-modelled, re-made Victorian terraces, these are little houses – let them be!)
Today it also means that lovely Dom the electrician is wandering in and out trying to work out how the wiring for the electrics upstairs has gone. Coincidentally at the point next door started the really into-the-wall drilling … funny that.
For me, being a writer means doing loads of different jobs, often all at the same time.
Today I have edited another chapter of the Theodora sequel, if I get through the last 8 chapters today, I’ll have done my almost-almost-final-edit (I hope). I have written the basics of a song/game for a scene in TaniwhaThames (the show I’m directing at the Oval later this year), I have emailed two dozen people about another theatre project we’re working on in a few weeks, and made notes about a film project.
I like doing lots of jobs, I’ve never had a proper job in my life, and this suits me. It suits me not to have to get dressed up and made up every day. It suits me to work on things that interest me (and things I sometimes find very very dull, like this final, read-through edit!), it suits me to be able to take two hours out yesterday afternoon to tidy the garden and then work again from 10pm to 1am. It suits me to know that it’s all a challenge out there, that publishing is unsure about what next, that theatre has had massive funding cuts, that almost no films ever get made, no matter how hard and how well we work on them. It suits me to push myself and work bloody hard at what I do and enjoy that working hard. It suits me to make things – books, theatre, cakes, garden. I like to make.
What doesn’t suit me is the wishful, whimsical, unrealistic idea of what a writer’s life is. What doesn’t suit me is people saying “oh, I wish I could …” You can. If I can, you can. (If Beryl Bainbridge* could, with children and as a single parent, we all can.) But you might find it’s not easy and you might find you don’t like working at home and you might find that holiday pay and pensions and sick pay are things that are really really useful. You might find the dream is not the reality. It’s well worth it to me. It’s not worth it to everyone.
* there’s an absurd bit in this wiki entry – ‘to help fill her time, Bainbridge began to write’. Yes, because as a single parent of three children there must have been so very much spare time!