Thursday, 17 February 2011

Writing Professional or Writing Junkie?

I’m either a clever person who’s being idiotic, or a idiot who’s learnt to show a veneer of cleverness.

Let me qualify that. Here I am, having just finished a Master’s degree in professional writing, I have several irons in the fire: a draft novel, a graphic novel in production, and a whole series of non-fiction role-play books being edited. It all sounds pretty good, doesn’t it? That’s the clever bit, here’s the stupid element: somewhere in my psyche I’ve managed to delude myself that it’s a worthwhile thing to pursue a career as a writer –laughable isn’t it?

An objective individual, with any knowledge of the publishing industry, will immediately understand why it is stupid; statistically I don’t have the proverbial snowball-in-hell’s chance of making anything at all from my writing, let alone turning it into a career. But that is just it, the only way any writer can get anywhere is to delude themselves that it is possible, that the thankless hours spent writing, editing, blogging, promoting, sending out work, and being rejected, are all to some purpose. While it would be wrong to directly compare writing to the appalling, life-wrecking effects of drug and alcohol addiction, the parallels are a little disturbing.
It starts out, often as a teenager, as a recreational thing; it is fun and rewarding, something to fit in with, and be congratulated for doing, by those that appreciate it, and something to be kept a secret from those that do not. Later, it becomes a subtly more obsessive thing; you may be holding down a normal job to earn an income, but you can’t wait to get home and indulge your passion. Soon you find yourself doing it in the morning as well, then you begin to find ways to organise your life around your addiction: flexible hours, self employment, the writing becomes justified as a potential money-spinner to work on between paid projects. Then you move onto more hard-core avenues to pursue the writing dragon: courses and retreats all cost money, and not forgetting the endless supply of books. It all starts to eat into the budget. Eventually the recreational hobby takes over and your income and savings are consumed to write that first novel, the second or third. Relationships become strained as those around you turn from being proudly indulgent to cynically disgusted. You don’t eat properly, your health begins to suffer and your sleep is plagued by flashes of insight; all to serve this writing monster.
And here’s the rub: you convince yourself it is toward some end, that sooner or later it will be worth all the effort, it will take-off and people other than those around you (in drug terminology, they are called enablers) will want to read your work, paying to do so. Surely a form denial every bit is blind as any addict.

Now, where this is all leading I can’t actually say. For habitual substance abusers, the future either leads to spiralling decline, physically, morally and socially, until their wasted shell expires in some ignominious fashion, or through self-will and the intervention of others they get detoxified and undergo a recovery, with the implicit lifetime of abstinence. This perhaps, is where writing differs; it could never be said that it is as toxic or chemically addictive. A writer could walk away from their pen and paper at any time, but my point is that most choose not to; the self-delusion is sufficient to keep them coming back for the next hit. And for the writer, the only self-help groups are there to enable their addiction, not recover from it. It is easy enough to dabble in the gateways of writing: tweeting, blogging, and wall posting, but for some the hardcore craft will beguile them, enslaving them to a passion that convinces fools that they are scholars and turns scholars into fools. Perhaps such things should bear a warning.