choices · habits · keep trying · writing

Writing – a surprisingly hard craft

In days gone by writing something was really hard graft. You had to sharpen a quill, fill your pen with ink or bash at the keys of your typewriter. You had to hunch over flimsy sheets of paper and there were only limited opportunities for corrections. You had to fully round out your thought before you could risk committing it to the fragile resources at your disposal. You were a person who was toiling at a craft, like any other skilled craftsperson. Anyone who had to spend three hours writing essays in an exam has experienced the finger dent of writing pages of text. Imagine spending the time it took writing a novel like War and Peace or Middlemarch by hand. These were grafters.

I live in a different time. Right now I am sitting on the floor of my lounge, laptop on my legs, as I play with these words. I make instant corrections. The software even tells me when my spelling and grammar have gone awry (though I often choose to ignore its advice). I can publish my thoughts to the rest of the world instantly. I can spend five minutes writing something or five years, it is totally up to me. My writing can be lengthy or brief, personal or fictional, totally ignored or acclaimed (well I can dream). But it comes to me with relatively little effort or toil.

Has this ease led to a period of great writing and diligence on my part or enabled me to side-line my writing to a rare and fleeting event? Well, of course, it is the latter. Unlike those Bronte siblings, I sit in warm and comfortable surroundings. I am listening to music, transitioning from Green Day to Fred Astaire. I am simultaneously flicking between four other windows right now; my music, an unfinished and woefully unattended to novel that I am supposed to be writing, a translation of a Swedish novel and an internet browser that is looking at my emails. My internet connection means that I can look up pretty much anything I wish to right now and it will be laid in front of my greedy eyes in seconds. I have so much bounty all at my disposal. I am the luckiest writer in the world.

When I had a real day job I used to dream about being a full time writer. I would read interviews with authors where they would bemoan the discipline of sitting down and writing each day. These so-called writers would talk of the need to have strict hours, escapes to cabins in the woods with no distractions, like internet service, and the horrors of writers block. I would all but laugh at their sorrows thinking of how different it would be when I would write full time. I could clearly imagine myself rattling off novels in a few sittings which would need a few days of revisions. I would wake up, and still in my pyjamas, eagerly gambol to my laptop where I would settle a few emails with a publisher before writing until lunchtime, or I had a tea break and got into my jeans and shirt. I would sit in cafes and write, I would take my laptop to work in the park on a sunny day, I would be a hard-working full time writer.

The reality is that I still don’t find the act of writing all that hard; I think I am lucky in this way and it’s the little glimmer of hope that I cling to that this is what I am supposed to be doing with my life. But, and it’s a big one, I rarely find myself actually sitting down and using this keyboard to write something. I find myself busy each day doing everything but writing. I will try to fix this by making lists and plans for the next day but the bit on the list that doesn’t happen is the time I was meant to have spent writing. I’m not even expecting myself to do more than a few hours a week, hardly a full-time job. This thing that I want to do, almost believe that I can do, just slips away from me. It’s almost like it’s too easy.  It seems that those published, real writers were right – even though this is no longer a profession full of physical graft, it’s still pretty tough being a writer. I just need to get tough too.

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