The last few days I've been doing some work at home (inbetween editing my novel), listening to some podcasts we're producing to get an online unit up and running. Yesterday, I was finishing off one I'd started earlier, which was a recording of an editor from an independent publishing house, talking about the publishing process. Among the many things she talked about was a decision she says that every writer must make: whether they want to be a writer and make that the focus of everything, or whether they want to do other things and write books around (or about) these.
It's an interesting topic when you consider the great divide between those who write full-time, and those who support their writing with working full- or part-time. This second group are often not people who want to do other things and write, but writers who want to write full-time but cannot support their basic existence by writing alone. There's a big YET that comes after that sentence. Maybe this is a situation peculiar to those of us living in countries with smaller populations, but I suspect not. After all, every country will have their emerging writers; it's just that here in Australia, most of our established writers cannot live by writing alone. That's the difference.
There are also those who write for the sheer joy of writing and have no intention of getting published. I consider them -- if they are still serious about honing their craft, and many of them are -- every bit as much real writers. (And I know the editor wasn't suggesting that one group was more or less important than the other, just that they have different focuses -- or foci, if you'd rather.) I had an argument with one of my Sydney friends last time I was up there about this. She suggested that every writer wants to be published. I don't support this view at all. And when I was at Buninyong the other day, I was interested to hear Peter Bishop talk about this: how some writers, well on the path to publication, suddenly decide, for whatever reason, that it's a path they don't want to continue on.
In opposition are those who write to be rich or famous. They're usually new to writing. Even as a beginner, I don't think my glasses were ever this rosy. I always wonder how long disillusionment will take to set in, and whether it will stop them from writing. If they're real writers, it won't. And as a counterpoint are those published writers who talk about never having had a rejection, but they are few and far between. Most of us suffer rejection at some time in our writing careers, especially at the beginning.
But the whole idea of a writer being someone whose full-time focus is on writing is disconcerting. I do want to be a writer; I do want to write full-time. But does this mean I have to give up teaching? My students often inspire me. I feel privileged to read their work and take part in their journey.
Teaching writing means my working week is still spent thinking about writing -- looking through writing books for new ways of approaching things, for different answers to the same or different problems, for new ways of inspiring students (and myself in the process). Teaching writing is a paradox -- on the one hand it informs my writing, but on the other it saps my creative strength, as I put a lot into my students. At Clarion, I asked every tutor who had taught writing how they wrote and taught, and they all said that you can't do both. But can't you? Other writing teachers do it. But do they do it as much as they should or could? One of our teachers has just resigned after ten years teaching so she can spend more time writing. It is a conundrum. If I had the kind of advance that meant I could consider leaving teaching, would I do it? Truth is I don't know. In the meantime, I'll just do what most writers do: work and squeeze every moment I can out of my day for my great passion: writing or, more specifically, my current novel.