First of all, thanks a million to my good friend Chris Nickson for picking up the pieces at very short notice yet again and filling last Thursday’s space with something far more interesting and readable than I could have dreamed up. Friends like Chris are hard to find.
The reason Thursday Dead Guy followers (hi, guys) have been seeing almost as much of Chris as of me lately is something which, in a way, lies at the heart of today’s post.
In one of my many serial lives I used to teach classes in creative writing. At least, there were classes, the brochure said they were called creative writing, and the educational institution which organized them paid me to sit at the head of the table and offer pearls of wisdom to the people who signed up. I’m not sure about teach, because my carefully considered view, based on observation and experience, is that it’s not possible to teach anyone either to be creative or to write. So what I was doing was helping some people whose natural creative streak leaned in the direction of writing to improve their skills.
OK, now that’s out of the way (it’s not really relevant, but I feel strongly about it, so I wanted my position to be clear), I’ll get to the point.
The point is, one of the most important pearls of wisdom I used to offer was this: if you want to be a writer, you have to write. You have to apply your butt to the seat of a chair, pick up a pen or fire up a computer, and put words on paper or screen.
And one of the most common excuses for not writing that were wailed at me was, ‘But I’m too busy! I don’t have time!’
When the person doing the wailing is sitting in a class, the answer to that is simple: in that case, what are you doing here? This is two hours a week plus travelling time which you could spend writing.
Fundamentally, the only possible response to that excuse is, if you really want to be a writer, somehow you’ll find, or make, the time. And for myself, not being one to hand out advice I wasn’t prepared to follow, and because I knew from a very early age that wherever my life took me, putting words on paper was going to be a large part of the journey, I’ve always made sure that the necessary time was factored in. I’ve been writing short stories and novels since I was six years old. Sometimes I wrote other things – papers and essays mostly filled the space when I was in full-time education, though I do have a box of what I suppose is juvenilia dating back further than I care to admit to. But through the most time-consuming bits of life like early motherhood and caring for a sick child, somehow I found that time, because it was something I needed to do: it was an essential part of me.
Sometimes – the ‘teaching’ years, mainly, and later when I went over to the dark side and took up publishing – my output became either sparse or workaday: reviews, bits of not-especially-creative journalism, promotional material. The time was still there, I made sure of that, but the energy was going elsewhere. Focusing on other people’s writing somehow mops up the motivation and spark that triggers one’s own, at least for me. But I still wrote.
So I used to have scant sympathy for the people who wanted to be writers but weren’t prepared to do what it took to write. Sure, life gets in the way and doesn’t leave much space; but if you want to do it enough, you do it. Demanding day job? Take a notepad on the commute. Busy family life? Get up an hour earlier in the morning and take advantage of the quiet. But lately... Let’s say I begin to be a little more understanding. Because it’s not just finding the time; it’s digging deep for that essential energy too, and all writers know that it’s a particular kind of energy which can’t always be called up to order.
My new understanding has grown from a set of circumstances which I won’t bore you with; let’s just say I’ve been faced with, am still faced with, family illness which has taken up time, energy, emotion, in fact just about everything that would normally go into my writing. When you come home after a long day of clinic appointments and/or hospital visits and still have the rest of life to deal with through the exhaustion, putting words on paper or screen isn’t the first thing on your mind. So, though I keep an expression of interest from an editor dating back, omigod, nearly a year, firmly in my sights, the project she showed an interest in has remained untouched for over half that time.
I’m still a writer. I will get back to that project. But for now, for the moment, real life really has to be well and truly my priority. So if you came to my classes and I berated you for not making the time and finding the energy you needed to produce the great novel I knew you were capable of, maybe this is where you were at the time, and I apologize.