Tuesday, 28 September 2010

To write or not to write – that is the question

For a few weeks now I’ve had an intruder bouncing around in my head. Like an unwelcome visitor, it wouldn’t leave. 

So today, I’ve decided to firmly push it out of the door. 

I’m fortunate that after twenty five years in the workplace, I can now work from home. Sometimes I have to work away from home, in bursts of three, four, five days, sometimes but not often, a week or more. Call it a perk of being the boss. Call it foolish, running a business from three hundred miles away. Call it what you will, but it works for me, the family and so far, the business and everyone connected with it.  

Like most people who want, who need to, write, I go through phases of self-doubt. It's recurring and I'm sure many people who write will agree. Is it worth it? Where will it lead? Am I wasting my time? Nothing new in that. I read an author’s comment recently and she said that people should realise writing is mainly a hobby and should stay a hobby. To try to make it more is wrong and foolish. So how do you know if you should just keep it as a hobby? How do you know if have anything worth publishing? How do you know if it’s worth continuing with that novel? Should I just do it as a hobby? Is that all I’m really doing?

I look at people who have made it. I listen to radio programmes. I read articles. I read autobiographical pieces on them. Many have a background somewhere in publishing/journalism or have family who have been in the business or they have parents who are successful writers. They have connections, knowledge of where to send things, the right people to approach, an insight into how it works. To say they haven’t had the influence, as they often do, is wrong. They might not have had a leg up and they might have done it all anonymously, but just like my ‘condition’ – it’s in the genes. It’s inherent. That’s a great advantage whether they admit it or not. What about the rest of us? What hope for a working class girl who had to leave school at 17 unable to finish A levels due to family circumstances? I’m not that clever, I haven’t a PHD, I don’t come from a literary home; I’m nothing special at all. 

Then there is my lack of self-confidence and self-belief. A strict father. An abusive boyfriend. A punishing career. Does nothing for the self-esteem. Or does it? Worthy of a thesis, that debate. 

I have a supportive husband and family but like all families, tensions arise from time to time. The husband and kids complain that I have my head stuck into a computer every time they want me, that I’ve always got a work-in-progress on the go, that I turn everything into a plot and I use them with ease in a story. Sometimes they are resentful but I remind them of the times when I worked shifts, had a heavy caseload and the kids had to go to breakfast club, after-school and holiday club. Not no more. 

Family spats I can deal with but when it comes on top of other stresses, like it did a few weeks ago, I stop. Pause. Think. 

I went away to work for a few days and tried to discuss it with a good friend. I had an idea of changing my life, leaving the business to run without me by giving others more responsibility. I’d go and get a job. A proper job. In the real world.

She said, yes, I should. It’s no good sitting at the computer all day, not getting dressed, not meeting people, being stuck inside on my own, surrounded by a cluttered, dusty house. It would be good for my soul. She said. It would improve me. She said. 

I protested a little and said, ‘But I want to write.’

She raised her eyes and gave me a sympathetic smile. ‘But you’ve been doing that for two years now. Time to get real. Writing doesn’t pay the bills. It’s pie in the sky.’ I knew she thought it was my little fantasy. I wasn’t a writer, just a wannabe. A wannabe amongst thousands of other wannabes.


So I applied for a job. It was a well-paid position and I fulfilled all the desirable and essential criteria. It meant working up and down and around Scotland, lots of travel, lots of responsibility. My friend was eager for me to apply. ‘It’ll be good for you, get you out of the house, improve your self-image, getting dressed up everyday.’

I was shortlisted.  

I had an interview. 

I didn’t get the job. 

The feedback was good, they liked me, but the person they had selected had a bit more experience in a particular area. 

I cried. With relief. 

I hadn’t wanted the job. I’d bowed to pressure and felt that I should. I wasn’t doing it for me. I was doing what other people thought I should. 

When we moved to Scotland in 2008, it was with the idea that I remain involved in our business, travel back from time to time, finish off my degree and write. We’ve been here two years now. I travel back from time to time to do my business stuff. I work from home doing various emails, letters, memos rotas, applications, etc. In the past two years I have completed five Open University courses.  In October I sit my final exam and I will have my degree, BA(hons). 

This year, 2010, I decided to concentrate more on my writing and since January I have sixteen new pieces published. I have won five competitions, and been placed or shortlisted in more. I have been interviewed for Twisted Tongue magazine about my writing and it will soon be published. I have joined twitter and have access to many readers, writers, bona-fide authors, publishers, agents – all people I would never have contact with or access to in everyday life. I converse with many people daily from my little study/office/music room. I am raising my profile. I am writing. I love it. This is what I came here to do. Hobby or not.

So that worm that wheedled its way into my head, gnawing at me to give it all up, has this morning been fed to the birds.

Until the next time... 


  1. I stick my tongue out at anyone who calls it a hobby and I hope you do too. :D

    I come from a poor working-class family, didn't even contemplate A-levels (just about scraped through with my O's) and don't believe that counts against me at all. Oh, and I wouldn't worry, I know of many writers who've made it with no insider knowledge at all. It is possible to be plucked from the slush pile.

  2. I know Cate. It's all part of the lack of self-belief process and finding reasons why I could never succeed. Reasons to dip out. Reasons to stop and never write again.
    Hurdles. That's all.
    And today at least, I feel I've cleared them.
    And thank you.

  3. Don't give up, don't think of writing as a hobby, don't compromise what you really want to do. Easier for me to say, perhaps, because my children are older and no longer financially dependent on me, but I will *never* (as I have in the past) compromise again.

  4. Interesting how that doubt monster creeps up on everyone...although I am amazed at where you find time for it!

    I think this idea that an activity is only valuable if you make money from it is sheer nonsense. It seems to me that in the useful work you've done in the past and are still doing, you've got every right to be proud of yourself.

    But most of us have to earn money to live - and it's not always in such intrinsically valuable ways.

    Where we find joy and meaning in our lives is individual, and up to each of us to decide for ourselves. From the outside it may make no sense at all - I know the time I spend sewing and embroidering as well as writing cannot be justified on the basis of an hourly rate.

    But it makes me happy, to create something that wasn't there before - a wonky quilt or an imperfect story. It may bring a smile or some comfort to someone else from time to time, or it may afford someone else a glimpse into a different world for a brief moment. When I read I feel a deep connection with the writer - it's one of the ways in which we get to see life from another perspective than our own.

    Perhaps your friend needs to read more, and discover there's more to life than a "proper job" I wouldn't normally do that - I don't think it's my place to prescribe a fix for someone else's life. But just this once ;-)


  5. Keep at it and trust that good writers/books/stories will 90% of the time find a home. The trick is to keep working and learning when things aren't going great.

    Watch this - I think it's spot on:

    And I don't have A levels or degrees or anything, and I didn't know anyone in publishing before I had anything published. I'm not sure if that makes me any different to other writers but I thought it might help you to know...

    Chin up!


  6. Dot - thank you. Sometimes it seems like writing is a luxury and I feel guilty about it from time to time but you are right. Compromising is definitely no good for the soul.

    Ann - yes - you're right too, My friend has a busy life but not much time for reading. I think she thinks I'm a bit odd - ha! It's just that other people can feed insecurities without realising. I don't think she did. And what works for one person, wouldn't for another. She wouldn't want my life. That's fine. After all, it's mine anyway.

    Nik - and you too are right. I think there are very many reasons not to do something if we look for them. There are lots of writers out there who haven't any advantage. It's tough. But I know that sticking with a story, editing, honing and sending it out there, again and again, it will find it's niche.

    I also wrote this for everyone else too. I know that a lot of us go through similar feelings - lack of confidence as a writer, insecure about our work - and this is proof of mine.

    Happy writing everyone!

  7. I hear you.

    Oh, so loudly.


  8. Ah Rhonda - thanks *hugs*

    We live to fight another day ;-)

  9. Hon, every damn writer in the world has self-doubt. Published, not-so-published, best-seller, raw beginner. It's part of us. It's what keeps us humble. It's what keeps us trying.

    You are doing bloody great.

    Jan x

  10. Thanks Jan.

    I know - all part of it and the success is all the more for it. All part of the process.

    I have promised myself that next year I will finish that long wip and just keep on doing it. With a great lot of folk behind me, how can I fail? : )