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The imperfect writer’s life

April 11, 2011

I wake up with just enough sleep, at perhaps 10, to a quiet house. I use coffee to gently wake me up with a little kick, but not forcibly so. With music playing and the temperature just right, I sit at my mahogany desk, writing a couple of thousand words toward the short story collection I’ve been diligently working on non-stop for the past few months, funded by the writers grant or perhaps an advance from a publisher because my work shows promise. There is no worry about work.

In the afternoon, I might work on some editing, submissions to journals, or perhaps write a blog post and chat with writers on Facebook or Twitter. In the night I might, with all my work done, go out to a political meeting, a poetry reading, a book launch, metal gig or stay home and play video games or do some reading – but always get to sleep just in time to have the right amount of sleep to ready myself for the fresh and perfect start the next morning.

Sounds lovely doesn’t it?

But how many of us say we do that? Other than reading something similar in Stephen King’s On Writing that little fantasy is pretty foreign to most writers. But I did wish it for a while and often still do fantasise about having the perfect writing life, that mix between work and things to keep me happy so I still turn up to the page each morning.

CubiclesBut the reality for most writers is that we have a multitude of other responsibilities to keep the world around us ticking over, to keep us breathing and healthy. For most of us, it’s either work or maybe looking after a household, both equally important roles, but ones that I think we all wish we could at least take a break from for a bit.

I work full-time as well as involve myself in a whole range of things outside of work namely political activism and Melbourne’s hidden but vibrant performance poetry scene. This leaves very little time for writing and so my ‘career’ as a writer has always featured that struggle to find the time and the motivation to write.

I’d never give up the activism or the poetry, not in a million years, but that day job…well, it’s like a big fat elephant hanging on my back between nine in the morning and five in the afternoon and sometimes I feel like all I need to do is shake it off without being kicked out of my house or being left to starve and I’d be right. That’s not going to happen anytime soon though.

So in my ramblings about how my day job holds me back from literary success, there are some gems of wisdom that I think keep me going along at a reasonable pace, and maybe even if you don’t get anything out of this here post, I might and pull myself out of this big fat hole I call the ‘Don’t want to write anything’ hole and actually get back to working on some of the things I’m meant to.

The first bit of wisdom is that I’ve learnt to accept that my writing life isn’t going to be perfect and sometimes it’s actually ok to not write for a bit. I do like and appreciate the advice that you should write regularly. And when everything seems aligned I can sometimes do that, or sometimes force myself to get some words down when it’s not perfect, but other times, it is just not possible. I have too much on. My head is full of a bunch of other stuff so my muse just can’t come to the party.

It’s in those times that I stop worrying, get through what I need to do and spend some time recharging, perhaps even depriving the muse of writing, whilst feeding it with so much inspiration through books, TV, video games and life that when I’m ready, it’s just about to pop. I guess my writing life is full of binges and droughts. That works for me, kind of.

The other thing is it that I like to turn my day job against itself and twist its wrist until it works in my favour. For all my desires to quit my job and take up writing full-time, it has given me a hell of a lot of ideas. I would have no poems about how ‘I love you more than I hate my job’ and no short stories about how I think my boss is a blood-sucking vampire without having to turn up here every morning and resent it.

And then sometimes, like I’m doing now, I can even write at work. It isn’t quite the same as being at home, because there’s that fear of people seeing you but writing something in a word document is far less noticeable than wasting time playing games, which I fear, is what I’d often do at home. Sometimes being at work can mean I get more writing done.

But then again, if I never had to work, there’d be time for both, right? Right?

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  1. April 11, 2011 12:14 am

    Right 😉

    The wonderfully talented Mr. McCartney recently sang”…it’s a fine line, between chaos and creation…” – and I very much agree!

  2. April 11, 2011 12:18 am

    Oh I wish my life was like the beginning part of your post! I’m lucky if I scrape in an hour’s writing most days… (and dammit I want coffee now and don’t have enough milk!)

  3. April 11, 2011 12:25 am

    Look up something about Kafka’s writing habits – absolutely insane! He worked at an insurance firm, really long hours, and wrote at night always. While he wasn’t wildly successful during his lifetime, he got the job done and posthumously he’s done incredibly well. (Thanks be to Max Brod) we know that he produced an awful lot of writing, and a lot of GOOD writing.
    So don’t lose heart! The elephant on your back doesn’t necessarily need to be shaken.

  4. April 11, 2011 2:48 pm

    I find I write about the same whether I’m super busy or not–that is to say, very little. Lately work doesn’t give me any hours (but i’m only twenty, in college, and living with the fam so it’s not such a burden) and so I’m trying to get 5,000 words a day so I feel like I’m working towards my writing like it’s a career.

    I’d love to read those stories about your blood-sucking boss btw. That made me laugh.

    Good luck getting back into writing. That you worry about how much time you spend writing I think shows you will definitely get something great done 🙂 We all wish we had more time. I bet even Stephen King thinks about that sometimes ;]

    *off to blog about her own writing dreams*

  5. April 11, 2011 5:54 pm

    I love the utter subversion of knocking out some fiction in work hours. I don’t know what your hourly rate is but if your boss knew it would certainly stick in his profit seeking craw. I say this from the POV of a bloke who is on the other side of the equation and who ends up taking work home with him … which therefore bankrupts my writer’s hourly rate deeper into negative equity. Grrrrr

  6. April 12, 2011 1:50 pm

    So what’s the difference between the imperfect writer and the would-be writer. I guess it has to do with what you said about recognising your imperfections.

  7. April 14, 2011 6:06 am

    Oh, my job was the source of many an angry poem or dark story! Of course, to protect my income, I kept all of that writing really private. Now that they laid me off, though… there’s plenty of opportunity and desire to go back to some of these pieces, edit and publish them!

    I think it’s a good idea to take the things that surround you and turn them into fuel for writing. Getting that time together to put these ides down on the page, though, is a trick that does take a bit of time to master.

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