If you’ve ever read a writing magazine, or friended writers on social media, then it’s fairly easy to gain an insight into the writing world and all that entails. When I catch glimpses of other published authors posting constant updates about round-the-country book tours, school visits, library talks, multiple launches, multiple guest posts, tv appearances, the #amwriting hashtags announcing that another 5,000 words are complete, I get a little bit anxious (and envious) about being tied to a full time 9-5 day job. I always like a challenge, but I know it won’t be possible for me to be able to engage in the same level of activity as some writers, at such a constant pace.
A friend said something to me the other week which resonated with me – ‘Don’t focus too much on what other people are doing. Remember this is your own unique journey, so just focus on that’.
The same friend let me read an article in Mslexia magazine (Issue 66) titled, ‘Don’t give up the day job’, by Naomi Elster. This article upset my friend a bit due to the fact she had given up her own full time job to pursue creative projects and it made her feel a bit guilty.
I have to admit when I first started to read the article, I felt an element of relief – here’s a writer I can relate to, she understands the challenges which come from working a full time ‘day job’ and writing. But I stopped identifying with her pretty soon into the article and actually started to get quite annoyed. She wrote her piece in reaction to articles from other writers who believed, ‘You can’t write if you have to work too.’ Seeing as I’m living proof, (along with millions of other writers), that yes you can, I’m not disagreeing with the premise of her article. However, what she went on to do, in my opinion, was insult and condescend the writers who have given up the ‘day job’, as well as devalue the writing profession. Her line, ‘We live in a world with very real problems, problems that can’t be cured with an appropriate sonnet’ seemed quite disparaging. It made me think, but imagine the world we would live in if the creative arts didn’t exist? Books can be powerful, educational and magical and provide many with a very important escape from their repressed and limiting worlds.
The article continues with lines such as , ‘I doubt that any writer who isolates herself in the proverbial ivory tower will ever create stories and characters that anyone else can engage with- apart from another isolated writer, that is.’ This made me wonder ~ does she have an imagination- is she creative? If I gave up my ‘day job’ tomorrow I certainly wouldn’t be sitting in a ‘tower’ locking myself away from the world all day long, but even if I did, I know my imagination would conjure up some three dimensional ideas for me. And a lot of the time, if I’m in the middle of an intense piece of writing, isolation from distractions is necessary. An ivory tower would come in rather handy…
She implies that working a ‘day job’ is the only way to really live and experience ‘real life’. No, it’s not – being employed by a company means being restricted to a 9-5 (or set hours), often getting bogged down with repetitive tasks and surroundings. Don’t get me wrong, at times my job can be varied and interesting– I’m in a client facing job so I get to interact with new people every day, but elements of my job definitely drain my energy and stifle my creativity. I do like the routine of a job,(though would prefer a more part time routine!), and get fulfilment from it, but I have a much more fascinating and enjoyable time outside of work.
This writer then goes on to talk about how she had to spend a lot of time at home during long term sick leave, saying, ‘When I did venture out the house, the only people not at work were a handful of self-styled artistes who were permanently unemployed, by choice, and seemed determined to be misunderstood’. She doesn’t stop there but goes on to say, ‘(I)…found myself writing affected pretentious prose in a voice that didn’t suit me…’ (Implying this was due to hanging around with these artistes and attending too many spoken-word events). A helpful friend then told her, ‘Your writing just isn’t accessible anymore.’ She doesn’t specify why she was on sick leave, but I found this a poor example of visualising what life would be like if she didn’t have a ‘day job’. Physical or mental illness would clearly drain your energy levels, so few would be able to write anything worthwhile during that time. I've also hung out with some great, inspiring writers who treat their writing as a profession by day, and by night, and certainly don't act like misunderstood 'artistes'.
As you can probably tell this article provoked a strong reaction in me. This has made me even more acutely aware about how important it is for writers to focus on their own journeys and what works for them. As this writer is in a similar situation to me I thought she would be able to offer me some invaluable insight and advice into managing a busy life. Instead, it just made me realise how we are all very different in our approaches and that it can be wrong to categorise writers as those who have a supplementary ‘day job’, and those who don’t, as ‘work’ and responsibilities come in many different forms.
What is a good plan for you, won’t necessarily work (or be possible) for me, and that is ok. It’s still nice for writers to share advice and tips, (and I’ll certainly be picking brains on promotional aspects), but when any aspect of ‘advice’ starts to feel like pressure or judgement, I’m going to make a conscious effort to tune out. And that applies to the pressures I tend to put on myself too!
Tune out, and write on...