Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Oh my gosh (Easy, easy!)

Lately, I've come across many heated discussions about the writing/other job balance. Or, in other words: the writing/money balance.

This is a good thing, I think. For a long time it felt like money was a dirty word for a writer to utter. I once had a conversation with an established South African writer who recoiled when I used the word "career" - writing should be a vocation, he said. (Which reminded me of all the times during my grandfather's poorly-paid career as a teacher when he was told it should be a "vocation" too.)

Talking about money is important, because talking about money is really talking about time, and how to find time for your art.

Out of necessity, most writers have written at least their early work around a day job: William Faulkner taking night shifts, Toni Morrison teaching and raising two children, Karen Thompson Walker tapping out her draft on the commute to work each day. Many writers argue it is simply a matter of discipline.
If you want to write... you will make the time. I wrote a novel at night when I had a three-month-old daughter and a full-time job. (Lauren Beukes)

Some even swear by it.
The reason I always maintained other streams of income was because I never wanted to burden my creativity with the task of providing for me in the material world... I have watched so many other people murder their creativity by demanding that their art pay the bills. (Elizabeth Gilbert)

And, of course, Charles Bukowski had much to say on the matter:
no baby, if you’re going to create
you’re going to create whether you work
16 hours a day in a coal mine
you’re going to create in a small room with 3 children
while you’re on

For those of you who can do this, I salute you. It amazes me.

But perhaps, also... this is not true. Perhaps not all of us can make good art while being pulled in multiple directions, or exhausted from other commitments. Perhaps this is a rationalisation for a situation that is far from ideal. Perhaps you need what you need (baby).

I like how Mia Gallagher sums this up:
Begging, borrowing and stealing time short-change us... and drain our bodies of our precious creative energy – yet even writers of great skill and experience are told they need to do this, to an extent that would be ludicrous in any other profession.

I can't be the only one to find it heartbreaking that Donal Ryan, a literal national treasure, has returned to a full-time job in order to pay the bills. Granted, no-one owes us the means to pursue our passion. But what does it say when a talented, much-lauded author cannot find a way to concentrate on his writing?

The Irish Times has published an excellent series on the reality of writers' lives, sharing a range of different experiences on this topic. The only truth that I can draw from these articles seems to be the same truth we should bear in mind about any advice to writers: nothing is universally true. Every writer needs to try out and discard approaches. In this way, hopefully, they find the one that works for them.


Over the four years since I began writing part-time, I've made certain sacrifices in my "other" career - turning down promotions or offers elsewhere, cutting my hours back - in an effort to fit the two together. I've been lucky to have a good, well-paid job, and lucky to have a parallel career that I enjoy and have worked hard at. I'm extremely grateful for it.

But after four years, it feels like I am doing neither part of my life justice. This may make me weaker than, or less dedicated than, other writers - a stick I've beaten myself with quite frequently. But I am tired, my dears. Tired enough to make a change.

So earlier this month, I walked out of my nice job.

This is the soundtrack that has been going through my head ever since I made the decision:

Let's be real here: I am not becoming a fulltime writer - just temporarily so. And it is, of course, an extraordinary fucking privilege to be able to do even this. But while it's at all possible, I am unashamedly grabbing at it. I am grabbing at it and holding on for dear life.

Oh my gosh
Oh my gosh
Easy easy!
All it down, all it down...

(Has anyone else taken the plunge, temporarily or permanently? Or does the security and stimulation of your day job still outweigh any drawbacks?)
Cat is, of course, thrilled with developments. What after all is a writer's desk without a cat?

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