When I was a child, writing and reading was a form of escapism for me. I was quite shy and insular and lacked confidence in social situations. I enjoyed making up stories and writing them down. Aside from school work, I also wrote poems and prose for my own pleasure, entered a few competitions and won a few prizes. So I decided from an early age I wanted to be a writer - probably a journalist. In my teens, I sent stories to magazines and got published . I expanded stories into serials and attempted to write a short novel, which I never finished. I discovered that I could earn bit of extra money from my stories, which, when I left home, was needed to pay bills. In parallel with this, I have always worked for an employer. From the age of 13, I had a variety of part time jobs and as life went on, and relationships and mortgages followed, I continued to work full time and my dreams of being a full time writer remained dreams.
When I reached my twenties, I got an agent and produced 2 pony novels a year whilst continuing in salaried employment. To meet the publishers deadlines, weekends and holidays were spent writing. I worked very hard for very many years and was probably more productive than at any time since. I continued to envy those who could afford to write full time, who maybe had the luxury of a partner who supported them to pursue their ambitions.
As I reached my thirties and forties I found ways to reorganise my working hours to build in more time to write. This involved some very early mornings, and, for a year, I managed to persuade one employer that I could squeeze my 37 hours a week into 4 longer days and do the job just as well. Eventually, I came to a point some years ago when I juggled several part time jobs to create more time to write but even then it was a struggle. The self discipline that had been a major part of my twenties was now lacking, and writing seemed to come harder to me. I moaned and whinged to anyone who would listen that there simply weren’t enough hours in the day.
When, for a brief period of time, I did actually have some free time, how ironic that I was unable to motivate myself to produce anything worthwhile.
Next month I will be fifty and over the years I have realised that I no longer want to be a full time writer. The dream that sustained me throughout years of commuting and jobs that I usually got bored with, had gradually faded. I need to interact with people, to learn new things and share experiences. All of this feeds my writing and makes life richer. What works best for me is to have some flexibility, some control, even if this is only 1 or 2 days a week, to organise how I use that time. I write in blocks, intense bursts of activity that can take me weeks or longer to gear up to. I really admire writers who have the discipline to write something every day. I remember once reading about a successful author who still retained her 9-5 office job, writing in the evenings and weekends. I felt resentful when I had to do this for years, but she actively chooses to structure her life in this way. That’s the key element in all this - choice. If you feel trapped and constrained, you end up being frustrated and constantly telling yourself, “If only I had more time to write I could achieve X, Y and Z.” “If” can be a very damaging word.
I have learned that on the rare occasions I have an unexpected expanse of “free” time I am very good at wasting it. (Although John Lennon apparently said, “Time you enjoy wasting is not wasted.” I like this.)
What I enjoy most about writing is playing with ideas. Writing is about ideas and language. Whether you are chained to a desk in a boring office job or stuck on a packed commuter train, your mind is still free to play and explore and for me that is the real fun. The physical act of translating those ideas onto a computer screen or notebook - that’s the graft. That’s the hardest bit.