I tweeted the following – it’s as simple as this
My writing rituals, writing full stop, are inevitably shaped and driven by the demands of my salaried work, and how intense they are
— susan_lanigan (@susan_lanigan) May 24, 2015
So, what is it about articles about writers and writing not talking about the Day Job?
I’ve just read an article about writing rituals. It had a series of writers talking about how they work for x amount of hours in the day, starting in the morning, or if they’ve become parents (well mothers, because men don’t get asked about parenting as much) how that has all changed. Nowhere, anywhere, did anyone mention “well at 7.45 /8 / 8.30 I commute to a demanding job and work there until 5 and then come home and stare at the computer for an hour or so trying to pull it together.”
We Live on Love and Fresh Air
The necessity of work – and even successful novelists often have to return to the workplace after a while – is elided and glossed over. One gets the impression that when one moves into this sphere, one is in some sort of rarefied cultural vacuum where there are sashed windows and teak bookshelves and Bach playing over speakers. The writer who puts on work clothes, sensible shoes, enters an office with large modern glass windows, possibly for a corporation or a government or a semi-state body, and spends all day being a completely different person talking about, well in my case, IT stuff – she isn’t a body included by such articles.
I don’t believe the writers in this article really do inhabit the Bach-playing sphere (if they do, I’m delighted for them :)) I’m guessing many of them make the same sacrifices the rest of us make. But there’s maybe an unspoken encouragement not to highlight these sacrifices and to instead pretend one can maintain the writing life without the struggles of day work, or the endless encouragement (and sometimes financial support) of an understanding partner. That’s why I was delighted when Caitriona Lally, author of new novel Eggshells, recently wrote an article of her struggle to find jobs. All right, her problem was the lack of work rather a surfeit of it, but it was so damn refreshing to read an article where jobs actually got mentioned.
(I get there are some people who do mention jobs, and they’re the “You’ve Got to MAKE Time” team. These folks drive me more up the wall than the ones who don’t mention jobs at all. No matter how busy you are, they say, you can always make a little time to write in your downtime, or between tasks, or early in the morning, why look at me, I’ve ten kids and I work for Google and I always make sure to make time and…oh do bog off. My brain is not a ping pong ball; for me, it takes time to switch from one mode to the other. It very nearly fried my brain back in 2013. Subsequently I took five months out of work to finish the edits for White Feathers and I’m glad I gave them my proper attention, because that was the least my editor and future readers deserved. But thanks for playing.)
Another problem is, if you have a philosophy of not mentioning the role of work in a writer’s life, you can end up with a lot of jobless, inexplicably well-off people wandering around fiction. People who have dead-end jobs can live in wealthy suburbs with no querying about the mortgage, or travel places when they’re too broke even to afford Ryanair. The lack of money, the need to have enough, is a powerful driver of ambition and choice; ignoring it is disingenuous. Historical fiction writers have a particularly hard time of it with currency and inflation, but it’s something we all need to be aware of. A character’s job, loved or hated, is part of what gives them an extra dimension.
Alain de Botton was right to say that work has both pleasures and sorrows. It can break your heart and yet it keeps food on the table. Most writers work, and this is a truth that needs to be as universally acknowledged as that of a man of means in search of Elizabeth Bennett.