Friday, 16 October 2009

I bumped into a neighbour yesterday...

..and she was asking me about my “latest venture”. When I told her I was writing the sequel to “..Half Heart Locket” she said (with a patronising tilt of the head),
Well, it’s good to have a hobby, isn’t it
I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry (or just drop my shopping bags and throttle her on her doorstep). I know she didn't mean any harm and she most certainly didn’t realise how much of a raw nerve she had touched but my blood did not stop boiling about this comment until well after the closing drum beats of Eastenders.
It’s taken me a while to accept myself as a writer. Even with a published book in my hand I still find it impossible to award myself that title. Probably because I’m frightened that people will laugh or raise their eyebrows cynically or mutter,
who does she think she is?” under their breaths.
Let’s face it, 'writer' is up there with 'actress', 'pop star' and 'model' when it comes to realistic choice of profession. We are conditioned from birth to think that there are only a few jobs worthy of turning into occupations. I don’t recall anyone ever mentioning the word ‘writer’ in those career workshops at school. I do remember plenty of encouragement for secretarial and shop work though. Funny that?
Those of us who do want to make a living from writing often come up against opposition.
How will you make ends meet?” shriek your parents when you first announce your intentions.
You’re up against it..” people say grimly “ ever makes a living from that
When you are struggling to make ends meet and doubting your chosen career path all of this can be extremely demotivating. And yet there has always been that little voice inside my head that springs into action when someone tells me I can’t or shouldn’t do something. I’ve had it for as long as I can remember although the voice does seem to be rather loud these days. What you have to remember is when people offer their opinion it is so often coming from a deeply ingrained (and quite often destructive) belief system. Some people think it is only possible to earn a living working in a steady 9-5 office job with a regular income and a decent pension deal. However, they are giving advice based on their own beliefs and experiences and too often we listen to that advice without challenging their assumptions, without considering that there is an alternative to their opinion. Sometimes the people who care about us try to dissuade us from doing something because they think it will make our lives difficult. It is understandable that they don’t want to see us in pain. I try to imagine what I would say if Junior announces at the age of 15 that he wants to be a dancer or play the drums in a rock band! We must be allowed to take risks because if we don’t we are prevented from growing and learning about the world in our own way. Sometimes people can accidentally crush our ambitions under the guise of caring about us.
Ten years ago I was locked into the idea that working in a miserable, dead end job was the only way I was going to be able to live. I knew what I wanted to do but I also knew that you can’t pay the rent with dreams. I decided the only way to escape the dead end job was to go to university, which is exactly what I did. I don’t regret my choice but with the benefit of hindsight and a few thousand pounds of debt to consider I now realise that this option was second best to what I really wanted to do. Which was to be a writer. However, at that point in my life I wasn’t in an emotional or financial position to take that risk. I’m still not in that place but it kind of feels like ‘now or never’ and I’ve been given this once in a lifetime opportunity that would be crazy not to grab with both hands and cling to. Even if I am not reaping the benefits of my hard work I am living my dream. And I do have a plan B because a) I’m practical and b) I’m realistic. I am profoundly aware that anything other than what I’m doing right now could only ever be second best but I might have to accept that, difficult as it may be. It might be that I have to work a 'regular' job and write in my ‘spare’ time. However I do it, one thing is for sure. Writing will never be just a "hobby" to me. It’s who I am, it’s what I’m about and it’s the second most important thing in my life (Junior being first, obviously). It’s too much a part of me to ever just be a hobby.

It is definitely true that it is more difficult to make a living as a writer than it is to go into an office every day (unless you are JK Rowling of course!). You are your own boss which might sound great but it can be challenging. You must devote yourself unrelentingly to your craft. That requires lots of discipline and drive. Some people might not like what you write and getting a bad review is always a possibility. You discover a lot about yourself during the process of writing - what you’re good at, what needs attention. You become familiar with writer’s slump (kind of like writer's block except you have all the ideas it just feel like an effort to get them down onto paper) I’ve learned a few things about myself which I didn’t know before. Firstly, I am okay with rejection. I don’t like it but I’ve realised that as a writer you have to put yourself out there and that is always going to involve rejection. The one great thing about having a drawer full of rejection letters is that it reminds me how many knock backs I have had and how I managed to pick myself up from them all and keep going regardless of the constant criticism. So I am prepared (albeit nervously) for negative comments. Secondly, I like my own company. A lot. Writers often complain that it gets lonely and mind-numbing being on your own all day. But I never feel lonely. I have all these brilliant characters keeping me company, vying for my attention. Bree, Sandy and Honey came to life the minute I started writing about them and they haven’t been able to shut up since! How could I ever be lonely with them around?
And I’m used to being very skint and living on a tiny budget so I am prepared for the small dribbles of money that may or may not appear at the most inconvenient times.
There is so much more to being a writer than people appreciate - risks, rejection, financial hardship, toil and tears. To label it as a "hobby" just demeans it beyond belief. Without writing I would just shrivel up, like someone had turned off my life support machine. Words are my oxygen.
So, sometimes risks have to be taken. We can choose to live a life that’s a bit uncertain and frightening or we can choose to allow someone else’s (narrow minded) view of the world to inhibit and control us. Living life on your own terms is the best revenge! Dare to live your life they way you want, go against the grain, shock the people who thought you would never do it. Going to work in a steady 9-5 job is probably easier than the challenges of following an artistic dream. But you have to ask yourself, are you happy? If your passion and your heart is somewhere else my advice would be to follow that dream however risky it might feel. It is much harder to stay true to yourself than it is to take the well-travelled path but trust me it is miles more enjoyable!


  1. I just love this post!

    Writing is exactly like oxygen!

    Oxygen is made of 8 protons, 8 electrons and 8 neutrons.

    Writing is made of pain, paper and characters that don't shut up!

    I agree with the never being alone thing about always having your characters talk to you!

    How did you stay motivated while writing your first Bree McCready novel? Was it the characters or the plot? (Sorry if you don't like questions! I just find the writer's life fasinating!)

    Good luck on writing the sequel to Bree McCready! I think you're amazing for being published!

    Do you have an idea of what a financially secure and complimentary career could be while writing?

  2. Don't be hard on yourself; you're a great writer! My review's coming soon ;)

  3. Dear Kamille, thanks for leaving such a positive response to my post. I'm so glad you liked it. In answer to the "how did I stay motivated" question, there are too many reasons to mention. Writing Bree McCready gave me hope during a hopeless time, I fell in love with the characters and the plot reflected a bit of my life so it was kind of a cathartic experience getting the feelings down onto paper. My little boy motivated me too. I want so much more for him than what we currently have. In answer to the "comlimentary career" question, my plan is to return to teaching (primary). It's the only other thing I can see myself doing and it might mean that I get to incorporate my writing and imagination into my day job! And don't worry about asking questions-I love questions! Are you a writer? How did you stumble across wordswithhazel? Best wishes, Hazel :0)

  4. Dear McKenzie, (some Scots slang for you) "Yer a wee doll, so you are"!
    You have been such a tremendous support and always seem to provide me with encouragement whenever I am having doubts. Thanks so much.

  5. I'm sorry you had such a bad time! And I hope Bree McCready gets really popular! I'm going to buy it soon (and tell everyone I know to read it!)

    Primary teaching? Do you need a degree?

    I cam across this blog because I typed in "children's book" and embarassingly, I also typed in "the next jk rowling"! And that was when I found out about Bree McCready! And then I found your blog!

  6. I'm ok now! But it was rather a tough time. Thanks so much for your good wishes, I really hope you enjoy Bree McCready. The book is aimed at 9+ but it has had really good feedback from older children and adults so hopefully there is something for everyone in there? The Primary teaching is a postgraduate diploma which means you have to already have a degree (my degree is a BA in Community Education) It's a year long course and pretty hard going. I was a nursery nurse for years and loved working with young people. I devised a teacher's pack to use alongside my book and maybe I'll get to use it myself one day?! You can do a four year BEd course if you have the right qualifications though. I'm really old, so time is not on my side!! What a great way to come across my blog! The next JK that would be nice! Great 'speaking' to you.

  7. Great to know you're ok now!

    Thanks for answering my questions!

    I'm really a 10 year old at heart so I should enjoy it!