Working writers – that would be all of us then.

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Yes, remarkably cheering and inspiring piece in The Guardian http://www.theguardian.com/books/2014/jan/17/writers-earn-less-than-600-a-year yesterday. Though anyone who feels like giving up on the whole idea of being a writer should perhaps take comfort from the fact that the survey quoted may be a little bit skewed as a lot of the respondents seem to have been hobbyists and beginners who have yet to publish anything at all – and as participation in the survey was voluntary, I doubt Stephen King or JK Rowling filled it in anyway.

It doesn’t change the fact that writing, like acting, photography, music or sport, is an occupation that most participants can’t make an actual living from. A lot of us are stuck in the awkward position of needing to do something else to pay our bills and feed our kids, while knowing that the something else is eating up time that could be used for writing, as the more we write, the more we might earn. It can be true, however, that having to fit writing into snatched hours here and there (bashing away at your iPad on the bus, taking a notebook to the park in your lunch hour, staying up a bit later or getting up a bit earlier so you have a bit of headspace when the rest of the family get a good night’s sleep) can actually make you work more productively and fanny about less.

The late Marion Zimmer Bradley once wrote, in an introduction to one of her Sword and Sorceress anthologies, that nearly all writers had a succession of weird jobs on their CVs. I think this is partly because writers who really want to write, rather than achieve career progression, will take on peculiar jobs for different reasons, such as flexible hours, comparatively high rate of pay because the job’s unsociable or uncomfortable, or an awareness that the job will involve a fair amount of time sitting somewhere without anything in particular that you have to do. I worked as a receptionist for a couple of years when I was younger, and I always had an exercise book or file pad in my bag for those long stretches of the day when nothing much happened apart from the phone ringing from time to time.

Later on, when I worked in magazine publishing, I completed two novels and started a third in the space of a couple of years, as there were always points in the day where I would be waiting… for someone else to finish subbing an article, for a photographer to show up with pictures, for other people to come out of a meeting and have actually Made A Decision. Though I haven’t worked in an office, for a monthly salary, in over a decade, I get the impression that things have tightened up a bit these days and fewer jobs depend so much on being physically present at one’s desk no matter what one is actually doing. (And I did lose about half a dozen short stories when one company i worked for changed the in house computer system to one that wouldn’t take the old floppy disks, before I got around to printing out my ‘secret’ folder of work).

These days, I have a part-time job which actually seems to suit my writing life very well. I’m a leaflet monkey, which means I spend my time plodding round the streets of South London sticking adverts into letterboxes. It’s amazing how easy it is to get into a deep-author-mode state while I’m on my rounds, letting a story unroll in my head, suddenly seeing the perfect house/car/dog for one of my characters, or walking past a restaurant that’s a fascinating setting for some of them to have a crucial-to-the-plot meal.

It also helps, or so I am inclined to believe, to keep me relatively healthy as it’s such a contrast to sitting in my room and pounding a keyboard for hours on end.

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1 Comment

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One response to “Working writers – that would be all of us then.

  1. A great piece (on a great blog)…I’m glad I’m not the only person who borrows other people’s real-life houses for fictional dwelling!

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