At the end of February 2015, I finished a six-month contract and decided not to look for another full-time job straight away. Instead, I was going to write. I was going to devote all my available time to writing.
I had the savings to be able to do it. It was financially irresponsible in the long term but important to my sanity and the amount of writing I was able to do in the short term. So I did it.
In the first few months, people were supportive. “Good for you!” “You look so relaxed.” “God, I’d love to be able to do the same thing.” After a few months, people were concerned: “When are you going to start looking for a job?” “Are you okay for money?” “Don’t you get bored?” Now, after more than six months, people are disapproving: “You’re still unemployed?”
And this is where the fundamental misunderstanding referred to in the heading rears its ugly head. I am not unemployed. I am a writer. I am financially supporting myself. And I work a full-time job just like anybody else.
My hours might be different (I’m writing this at half past midnight). My commute time might be more advantageous (approximately five seconds from my ideas board to my computer). My colleagues might be less annoying (or more annoying, depending on your perspective – three cats who like to sleep on my legs while I work at my laptop).
But I am still working. Novels don’t just appear fully-formed on my desktop. Blog posts and articles don’t just magically write and post themselves. Writing competitions and unsolicited manuscript submissions don’t just enter themselves. It is bloody hard work.
And yet many people seem to think I do very little. They think I sleep late because I’m lazy. They think I sit around and do nothing because I can. They think I’m available at short notice because I can drop everything. They never seem to wonder about whether I want to, whether I should.
They don’t understand that I sleep late because I work late. They don’t understand that there is always something to do, more than I can ever hope to accomplish in one lifetime. They don’t understand that every Monday that I can’t write because I’ve had to drop everything at short notice is a Saturday that I have to write. And every Tuesday that I can’t write is a Sunday that I have to. And every Wednesday that I can’t write… well, we’re out of weekend days for me to able to make up the hours that I’ve lost.
They don’t understand that writing is only half the job. I also have to market myself, not an easy task for someone whose natural instinct is to downplay my talents rather than promote them. I have to develop and maintain an online profile and presence. I have to interact with total strangers who might be the next person to buy a copy of my book. For someone who has often considered becoming a hermit and who has a manager whose catch phrase is “Interview over!”, this is not something that comes naturally.
Eventually, I will have to go back to paid employment. I don’t have a publishing contract yet and my independent book sales don’t provide enough money to avoid the prospect. And when I do, people will be relieved. “Phew! The money’s coming in again. She’s not just wasting her time on a pipe dream anymore.” And nobody will ask me to take time off at short notice. Nobody will call me unemployed.
And nobody will realise that I’m in fact working two jobs: the one that pays the bills and the one that feeds my soul. I don’t ever stop writing, at least not for long. I am always a writer, regardless of whatever else I might be doing to ensure my financial stability.
So, please, the next time someone tells you they are a full-time writer, don’t insult them by asking how much it pays or what their real job is or when they’ll be getting a real job or suggest that it must be a luxury to have so much time on their hands. Instead, buy a copy of their book and read it. Because that’s the only way you’ll be able to decide for yourself whether it’s a worthy use of their time. And even if you decide it’s not, keep it to yourself. It’s their life, not yours, and as long as they aren’t hurting anyone, at least they’re doing what they want to be doing with their life. It’s not something most people can claim.
*First published in Project December: A Book about Writing