For Example, Driving Nails With Your Forehead

September 21st, 2004 · No Comments
by Booksquare

If you are looking for a stable, practical career, do not choose writing. There are much better jobs to be had. There are jobs that don’t make you cry. Jobs that come with regular paychecks. Jobs that don’t invite perplexedd stares and rude questions. There are jobs that don’t require getting up in the middle of the night to capture a sentence slipping away because you’ve knocked your notebook under a piece of furniture you would have sworn had only a hair’s width of space.

Being a writer isn’t a choice. Well, perhaps for some, but nobody we’ve ever met. It is not something you take on lightly — we are not the only soul who spent years convinced anything else had to be better. We are not the only soul who later decided giving up a cushy corporate job and focusing on writing was a brilliant plan. If we had chosen to go into, oh, law, that would have made sense to our friends. Instead, we left them wondering what we were thinking.

We can help there. First, of course, was “No commute.” Second may have been, “Pajamas. They’re the best things ever.” Third was (and we’re sure here), “Can we write with dirty dishes in the sink?” Fourth, “Yes.” We can do anything with dirty dishes in the sink.

Jonathan Coe (The Rotters’ Club) puts it this way:

…those outside the circle can have very little sense of what it’s like to be inside: how raw and urgent and life-and-death everything feels in there.

He then says, with appropriate emphasis:

More than anything else, you need to be driven, nowadays, if you are going to make any headway as a writer. While newspapers may occasionally regale us with stories of a single mum on a council estate who has just been paid £90m for a story she wrote on the back of her old P45s, or an 18-year-old Oxford undergraduate who only this morning had an idea which has already been translated into 47 languages, this will not be the experience of most aspiring authors. There is a reason stories like this become headline news, and it’s because they hardly ever happen.

Instead, for most of us, you need a solid core of self-belief – which is not the same as self-confidence, incidentally. (The former is intrinsic, the latter superficial.) The kind of self-belief a writer needs is childlike in its intensity and impermeability. In fact many children have it as a matter of course – I see it in my older daughter, Matilda, as she crouches over the kitchen table writing stories using the words she has only just learned to form. The idea that this might be anything other than a valuable way to use one’s time has yet to occur to her.

Being a writer is not always fun. It certainly isn’t guaranteed success. The glory can rarely equal the sweat. Coe ignored the excellent advice of his grandfather and stuck with writing. After all, what is a little ego bashing when you’re feeling raw and urgent?

File Under: Square Pegs