When people know you are a writer, they feel suddenly able to tell you a lot of crazy things. They will tell you that their neighbour’s great aunt’s brother’s ex-best friend’s wife’s gynaecologist lives with a writer; Trevor. Perhaps you know him? They will ask how much you earn – a question that would be considered rude if asked of anybody else. They will expect a list of your publication credits and smirk when you falter over the precise name of the magazine that published your short article about the reality of crazy cat ladies seven years ago, as if to say, ‘See? You’re no writer, are you? Not really.’
One of my personal favourites is when people learn that I’ve published a comic book. One acquaintance referred to it as my ‘little cartoon’ as though I somehow had ideas above my station. Others, on learning that the story has nothing to do with Marvel and doesn’t feature a single Avenger, quickly lose interest and go back to Trevor who is, apparently, quite brilliant.
I usually find comments of this ilk amusing. Don’t forget, we writers are a thick skinned bunch and this writer pursued a degree in theatre so rejection, feelings of inadequacy, rampant insecurity as well as occasional moments of utter brilliance are all par for the course. There is, however, one comment that comes up over and over again, and it really niggles. It is on the subject of time and the conversation usually goes something like this… (Please, do read aloud and if the mood takes you, feel free to alter your voice to differentiate between characters)…
Me: (Awkward wave) Hello.
Total Stranger: (Sidles over) Hi there. Are you (Insert host’s name here)’s friend?
Me: That’s right. We used to work together. And you are?
Total Stranger: Call me Bob. (When people introduce themselves like this, I’m convinced they either think I’m weird and don’t want to give me their name, or they’re bored of their actual name and are trying something else on for size) I live across the road. I’m an Air Traffic Controller.
Me: Sounds exciting.
Bob: It isn’t
I’m sorry, what is it that you do?
Me: I’m a writer. I work in a library during the day but ultimately, I’m a writer. That’s who I am, that’s what I do.
Bob: Oh, wow! That’s just… I mean, that’s incredible. You guys are awesome. A writer, huh? I’d love to be a writer.
Me: You would?
Bob: Oh, yeah. If I had the time, which obviously I don’t, because of all the air traffic controlling that I have to do in my real job as an Air Traffic Controller.
Me: Face gets very red. Steam escapes from ears. Eventually, head explodes.
I’d love to say I’ve only had this conversation once but it comes up almost every time I meet someone new. When I say I’m a writer, at no point do I mean to imply that I am somehow exempt from all the other daily tasks and responsibilities that make up a human life. I have a day job. I shower (often). I go grocery shopping and to the dentist (less often). I have to queue in the post office and the bank.
Nor do I live like some kind of hermit. I go out, I have a social life (reading is social, right?). I visit family and friends. I shop, eat out, go to the cinema. Sometimes I bowl - not well, but I can’t be brilliant at everything. My point is, I have not been gifted with secret units of time that I stash in my mattress. I wasn’t singled out at birth as ‘one of those creative types’ and loaded with a few extra hours each day. Writing is work. It’s work that I love but it’s still work and I have to make time for it. It means making sacrifices; less time spent in front of the television, resisiting the lure of Facebook and Twitter and Instagram, refusing to be distracted by yet another cat video on Youtube, going to sleep half an hour later, waking up twenty minutes earlier, writing through my lunch break, my tea break, on the bus, at the coffee shop. I never stop. Every minute has to count.
So, the next time you’re in conversation with a writer and you’re about to say you’d love to write a book if only you had the time, remember: you do have the time. If writing was important to you, you would make the time and you are talking to somebody who does make that time, who does make those sacrifices, who fights to justify every minute spent writing and who really doesn’t need to hear another person say that they could do what she does, if only they weren’t so busy.
Do you think she isn’t busy?
Do you think she isn’t tired?
Do you think she doesn’t come across a hundred reasons every day to throw down the pen and just not try anymore?
Art is beauty. It is also sacrifice. Without art, humanity is lost so be grateful that we have it in our lives. If you want to make art, make art – just don’t make excuses!
Until next time…