15 July 2007

Writer or not?

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.


Sherryl said...

Good post. It made me think - nothing but writing? Or writing worked around life and job? If I had the money to be able to stop working (which pays the bills right now), I'm not sure I would be an 8 hour a day writer. But I know there are many things that contribute to writing other than sitting in front of the computer. Like research, reading, and importantly - thinking. That's what I get in the holidays that I don't get while teaching is happening - the extra time and headspace to think nothing but the book.
Would I give up teaching altogether? I think probably not because, like you, I get a lot out of it and enjoy it. Unlike the person who resigned, who often seemed to not enjoy teaching much at all.

Tracey said...

Headspace is a good point. Our problem is that we have jobs that take up this headspace. I do remember in my scientist-days, especially in my early days, being asked to wash bottles, which the others hated doing, and I loved it because I would be thinking about my stories. We need well-paid jobs where we work few hours a week, and don't have to think at all about what we're doing.

lorraine said...

I was interested in your comments on 'Writer or not?'. I am a 'mature age' writer. I have often thought how wonderful it would be to be teaching writing subjects all the time in an environment which gives you the inspiration to keep writing.
I started a novel in my teens but it was shelved. Would you believe I actually hid it? It was in an era when girls were not expected to branch out into their own fields. Sewing/dressmaking was different, but writing, well...! In my 50s I returned to the writing scene and loved it. Even now I love it, but I still channel my energies where I feel they are most needed, that is more towards helping people.
Since finishing my Diploma, writing doesn't always come first. It certainly did when I was studying. But I've recently made a commitment to myself to do a certain amount (you'll notice I'm not telling you what it is) - but, again, when it's possible. I know ... I've split the infinitive! I like it that way.
I love writing, but would never be an 8-hour a day writer.
Am I still generally classed as a writer?

Tracey said...

Lorraine, I think you answer your own question. "I am a 'mature age' writer" you say. I think it's a mindset. You've said you've recently made a commitment to writing a certain amount per day -- in my mind, it is this daily practice that sees results. From grains of sand, a sandcastle is made. Ooh, I'm getting philosophical, aren't I?

You say other people come first -- as I've said, there's nobody can tell you how to live your life. You've got to find what is comfortable for you -- only you can set your priorities, so you have to make sure they're right for you. If other people come first, that's fine -- as long as you're fine about it, and won't later resent the time you gave to them. As a counterpoint, if you put your writing first, and then something happened to one of them, would you regret not having spent the time for them? It's a balance -- and only you can decide how to weight the scales, and what you're happy with.