When is writing right?

Recently I’ve been receiving some inspirational blog posts through my email. They’re from a writer who takes a very hard line about the business. I’m not going to quote this person directly, or make reference to their website, but the upshot is that they believe that being a writer, if you’re doing it properly, is the centre of your life. That anything else needs to take second place to putting your words down on…well, paper, screen, whatever you use.

From a certain point of view, I can agree with that. If you’re using your skill as a storyteller to write fiction for sale, or your ability to create interesting features to generate income from magazines, then yes, it’s a business. Like any business, you need to take it seriously and put in the effort it deserves. If you do the washing and ironing, then clear away the dishes and do the grocery shopping before you can start the day’s writing, you’re already behind. I get that.

Where it gets problematical (although I think that’s a made-up word) is that not everybody is in that position. I’m inspired by the example of James Moran, who wrote the feature films “Severance” and ‘Cockneys vs Zombies”. He held down a full-time job, but still wrote over twenty drafts of his first script because getting it exactly right and as good as he could was essential to realising his dream of being a screenwriter. He mentions in his blog that he would come in from work and start writing, he would write at weekends and at night because this was what he wanted.

Our favourite excuse, as writers, for NOT writing is : “I don’t have time”. Very few of the many, many writers in the world have writing as a full-time employment – by which I mean, the only thing they have to do during their work day. I’m luckier than a lot of people – my wife has a good job, and I only have to get the kids to school, then keep the house clean and running until they get back. The rest of my time can be spent writing. Except that the writing doesn’t directly add to the household income, so I actively pursue work that isn’t writing during the time I have FOR writing so that I can earn enough to allow me to remain at home and….not…write. Which brings me back to those emails.

There’s enough guilt in my life, thanks. I feel guilty that I can’t spend more time with my children. They have volunteer readers in their classes, they have adult volunteers on their field trips. I’m rarely involved with any of that. My house could do with more care and attention, but that would take some research and skills that take time to develop. My dog should have two walks every day, not just some days. My friends back in the UK should hear from me when things are ok, as well as when I’m grumpy, and my parents would probably like an actual letter to go with the emails. Maybe my family would appreciate me learning another meal to add to the seven I know how to cook. So, while I agree with the thrust of these emails – “If you’re a writer, then you should be WRITING! Writing is the most important thing in your day, don’t be ashamed of it!” I will still put family first. I know that means I probably won’t rise to the top of my profession, that I won’t outsell J.K. Rowling (and, given that I’m a playwright, that’s not surprising) but that’s a choice I’m making.

The sour grapes side of me wants to point out that the individual sending me these emails doesn’t have kids, and is “returning to the writing business”. They make their living as a writer by telling other people how to be a writer and working as a “Social Media Writer” for a large company. I don’t know what a Social Media Writer is. It might be a person who writes about Social Media, or it might be a person who writes about that large company ON social media. I don’t know. Either way, it’s not my place to judge their worth in telling ME how to be a better writer. Like I said, the core of their message is fair enough. Whether I want to take that advice to heart is up to me.

So here’s what I say about when to write. Write what you want to write, when you want to write. Write stuff you love writing, stuff you like to read. Write the stories that unroll in your head and drive you to your desk because they won’t lie still till they’re pinned to the page. Write because you have to.

You’ll be a writer because you write. If you want to be a rich writer, or to earn any money from writing, well…Then you need the discipline, the time and probably the guilt so that you FIND the time, no matter what else is going on in your life.

Disclaimer: Despite this appearing on the internet and probably leaving enough clues for a determined researcher, this post is not an attack on the person who is sending out the emails mentioned. They are entirely entitled to do what they’re doing, and I admire their standpoint even if I’m not standing there myself. If I really get upset by the emails, I have the option to remove myself from the mailing list and will do so if it becomes necessary. If anyone wishes to rush to the defence of this individual, please do so with courtesy and good spelling. If the individual feels persecuted and wishes me to retract any or all of the above post, I’d be happy to discuss it via email.

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3 responses to “When is writing right?

  1. I hear you. I’m never going to make a living from my writing. I write because I love to write and I write what I want to write when I want to write it. I know that if I chose to devote just one or two hours per day, consistently, I would be a much more prolific writer and much more likely to produce. But then it’s a business, and the joy, or sometimes just catharsis, that writing gives me is lost.

    Therefore, I allow my writing to be my #2. My #1? everything else. I love the editing work that pays me; I love to cook and to learn new ways to do it; I even enjoy housekeeping and laundry for the simple sense of accomplishment I feel when a task is complete.

    So maybe there aren’t always enough hours in my day to write, but that’s okay with me.

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