Yesterday’s experiment worked rather well, thank you very much. In fact, it worked rather well in spite of myself, for even as I sat down to write knowing that I had a ‘limit’, and that I wasn’t going to allow myself to keep going until my eyes were falling out of their sockets with exhaustion, I didn’t really believe I’d do it. I didn’t really believe I could start writing and then stop, like that, and for it to have been my decision. Normally I go until I can’t any more, which – in all honesty – isn’t really a good policy. Not all the time, at least.
It tends to turn you into this:
The onset of December has already had a disastrous effect on my energy levels and general wellbeing-ness, so I’m glad to know that I am capable of immersing myself in writing without allowing it to get on top of me. I’ve done that before. Not good, for me or the writing.
I was speaking to a friend at the weekend about creative careers, and the danger faced by anyone who likes to create and who wants to do it for a living. My friend has her own business (she’s fantastically accomplished) but also enjoys baking, and is very good at it. Several people have encouraged her to take up cake-making on a semi-professional basis, as her work is easily as good as, if not better than, some of the cakes you see for sale in shops. (I can also testify to the absolute deliciousness of her work. Someone’s got to look after quality control, after all). However, my friend made the very good point that she loves baking because it’s not her job. She fears that if she began to sell her baked goods, it would take the joy out of it. This, I’ll admit, is something that worries me, too.
At school I was good at art. I loved to draw, and still do (though I don’t get time to draw much anymore), and I liked pushing myself to learn about different techniques and tools. In my final year at school I was halfway through creating a portfolio to apply to art college when I realised: I don’t want to work at something which I’d rather have as a hobby. I wanted to keep art as something I did without feeling pressured or stressed, and as well as that I knew I didn’t have much of an eye for design – I was a draughtsperson, good with line and shade, but not so good with composition. I knew my limits, and I didn’t want to waste my career wishing I could be a better, or different, artist than I was, straining for abilities I didn’t have.
I have limits with my writing, too. There are things which simply don’t interest me, and there are things I know I’ll never be able to attempt because I don’t have the skills – horror, for instance, or crime writing, or women’s fiction. But where art was definitely a hobby, and not something which took over my every waking moment, I feel differently about writing. I woke the other night at four a.m. thinking about the project I began yesterday. I’m constantly thinking about writing, and characters, and stories, and even though I know some of the ideas I have aren’t workable, or big enough, or original enough, to ever leave the confines of my skull, I have no control over the fact that I’m always thinking about writing and ways to improve my writing. I don’t have all the skills and abilities I need to write yet, either – but I want to develop them.
I want to write professionally, and to the absolute best of my ability, in the hope that it is of a high enough standard to be acceptable, but I also want to be able to take a hobbyist mental approach to it. I want to be able to think that the work I’m doing doesn’t have to be perfect first time around, or it doesn’t have to be the best story ever written (even if, in reality, it does!) I want to be able to start and stop as I please, write 1500 words and then leave it at that, or work for three hours and then stop, not because I have to but because it’s the best thing for me. I want writing to be my job, but I understand that working at it in the same way I’m used to working (eight hours straight, short breaks, unrelenting focus, goal-oriented, self-motivated) can sometimes lead to poor ‘product’. Of course, wanting all this doesn’t mean I’ll get it, but I think this is the constant balancing act of people who work creatively – trying to ensure you’re working as well as you can while maintaining your health (mental and physical) and the quality of the work you’re producing. It’s not easy. Everyone writes differently, and what works for one writer won’t necessarily work for another, but I think – though I’m still experimenting – that I’ll try working in short focused bursts for a while, and see if it makes a difference, both to my work and to my mind.
I have completed one book, of which I am proud. I have several ideas for future books, which I want to write to the same standard. I want to write for the rest of my life, and so that means I need to develop a technique which allows me to be prolific and also produce work of a high standard – the best of the ‘professional’ and ‘hobbyist’ worlds, one might say – as well as equipping me to prepare for a long-term career.
It’s early days, but I hope I’m finding my feet.