Wednesday 19 February 2014

Some truths about being a writer

Similarities are perhaps more surprising than differences

I had the extraordinary privilege yesterday of attending one of our MA days with our Playwriting MA students. A colleague was ill and I took over some of the hosting duties. This is a delightful group of very serious, very committed students.  I joined in the discussion with them and three of the visiting playwrights. Although writing plays is in many way different from writing fiction, being a writer in both cases is very similar.

Turn up at the page

This was a big message. The fact that these students are on this course is a sign already that they have some competence.  They’re not terrible writers. They’re not yet great. But they can be and are more likely to be with continued practice. So, it’s important to set aside time for writing.  This time must be ring-fenced. Even on the days it is difficult, if you write you are a writer.

A vocation not a profession

You do this because you are passionate about it. You may not be able to earn all that you need from it – only a very few do. But you keep on. There are ways to manage this:
·         Stay with your creative project and find casual work to pay the bills
·         Compromise your creativity for the sake of commercial success
·          Join the academy (There is an interesting irony here – that is just as much a vocation though it looks like a profession.)
·         Take on some “jobbing” writing tasks
I’ve actually said all of this before. It was good to hear other “professional” writers say the same.
The value of networking
We’re handing some of this out on a plate to our students. But keeping a finger on the pulse is essential. Find out what’s happening out there. As one visitor put it, never turn down a cup of tea. There is an abundance of opportunities.
Small press is great
I’m small pressed published and I love it. The equivalent in playwriting is to find small theatre groups, consider doing something via You Tube or consider producing work yourself. Create your own opportunities. This leads to good lines on CVs.
Submission dilemma
One “publisher” looks as if they will accept if you totally change something which takes out the heart of your work. Another actually loves precisely this aspect but cannot at this stage make any promises. Is it here a matter of finding a third way and a third “publisher”? Been there. Done that.  Several times.
Ah, the writer’s life is a curious thing.      

Friday 7 February 2014

Being a university lecturer – is this a help or a hindrance?

At least I’ll never have to retire

I met with a few colleagues in a local café yesterday.
“I’ll be retiring in two years,” I said but then added quickly “but of course I shall carry on writing so I shan’t really ever retire.”
We discussed this a little. There would be another advantage – there would be no pressure to write anything too commercial. Even though I’d still want to be paid, so that the writing gained some status, my teaching pension, my university pension and the state pension would pay for pretty well all of my immediate needs. Or is that an advantage?


Some other advantages

You are certainly taken more seriously if you say you have an MA and a PhD in creative writing and that you teach it in Higher Education. This isn’t necessarily by publishers – if anything they’re a little wary. When it comes to organising readings, festival appearances or school visits, though, it’s a good line on the CV.
The university gives me a reasonable salary for being a writer and doing quite a few other useful tasks for them – teaching some classes, completing some admin and as a writer being an ambassador for the university.  
Nobody bats an eyelid if I work on my novel in my office on the university computer.
I’m thinking, talking about and reading writing all of the time. That actually helps me to make my own better.


 Some disadvantages

Time often disappears and sometimes when there is the time there isn’t always the brain space. It is now 8.45. I’m working from home this morning. This is the best time for me to write. Often, if I can’t write first thing I don’t get round to writing at all.
There certainly isn’t the time for doing the marketing that will produce a steady stream of sales. I do look forward to having more time for that when I retire. But I’ll miss a tag, though I expect I can say “former university lecturer”.  
That advantage of not having to be too commercial can be a disadvantage too. There must be rigour in both cases. Lack of commercial value also, alas, can mean lack of visibility.
Creative wring in any case maintain a puzzling position in Higher Education. Even we creative writing academics ourselves can’t always define it successfully. Yet we have a growing sense that we bring genuine academic rigour to that discipline.  


The goal

For me personally this remains the same as ever: to write that novel or that group of novels that really make the difference. And so, inside or outside the academy that process continues.         

Tuesday 4 February 2014

A writer sandwiched between two artists

My father was a talented artist and would have gone on to study at a top art school if World War II hadn’t intervened. My son is similarly talented and works in the fashion industry but also illustrates books. They have a remarkably similar style even though they were taught in completely different ways.  My father’s education was very formal.  My son was just taught what he needed to know when he needed to know it. Both were found to be colour blind – my father mildly so, my son more severely. It didn’t stop them.
Their work is good, really good. So, I don’t bother.

Monday 3 February 2014

Most writing is rewriting

Working with an editor

I’ve just completed my edits of The House on Schellberg Street. I think it’s pretty tight now. I’ve actually cut it down by about 8,000 words so it’s a respectable 95,000 or so now. Except in the finished copy we’ve found a few orphans. The easiest way to fix them is to rewrite a little.
And so it goes on.