The curse of being a writer.

Last week WordPress told me we’ve been in a relationship for two years now. That’s longer than some of my marriages have lasted. But then WordPress doesn’t insist on me declaring my undying love to it on a daily basis; WordPress doesn’t get jealous when I spend hours with other Internet sites; WordPress doesn’t complain if I don’t talk to it for a few days; WordPress doesn’t get mad if I spell its name wrongly; WordPress is always ready to do what I want; WordPress doesn’t wake me up in the night to ask if it shut down would I take up with another blogging site and WordPress didn’t call me a pervert when I gave it some sexy add ons.

What a curse it is to be a writer. Being a writer ruins everything. Really. There’s this romantic idea, I think, that being a writer must be so…what’s the word? I don’t know so I’m going to say cool. That’s bollocks. Being a writer is a burden. A cross to bear. Sometimes I feel like I’m being punished by a higher authority. Writing is an obsession and like all obsessive habits it’s nigh on impossible to stop. Five years in and I’m only just beginning to realise that.

Being a writer is something of a cruel mistress because it doesn’t matter whatever else you’re doing, whatever wonderful treat life has in store for you, if you’ve got a writing project on the go you would rather be sitting at the computer getting on with it. Sometimes even eating a meal irritates me so that I want to punch something because I feel like I’m wasting my valuable time. (I went through a phase of eating my dinner sitting in front of the laptop until I spilt gruel in the keypad, and then the b,n & m keys didn’t work properly.)

As a writer it’s so hard to be entirely satisfied with what you produce. If you can be easily satisfied with your writing you’re not a ‘real’ writer, you’re just playing at it (or maybe you’re just crap or deluded). Real writers are obsessed with finding the next level of their ability, even if they have to change themselves to do so. The need to improve, to write better stuff is all consuming. And so bloody irritating when you can’t find a way to punch through the paper ceiling. And there’s nothing that brings that home to me more clearly than reading great writing.

To be a writer you must be a reader, but being a writer can ruin you as a reader. Gone are the days of reading only for pleasure because everything you read you’re comparing the quality of your own writing to it. It’s not easy to relax. You read for inspiration as much as entertainment and when you read something great it is like a double-edged sword. You love the writing for its sublime invention, for its originality of phrase, for its clever plotting, the best words in the best order. But you hate the writing (and the writer) because the quality of it seems beyond you as a writer, and what’s worse you feel that it always will be. It’s so frustrating. Being a writer undermines my enjoyment of reading for these reasons.

In the last week I’ve read ‘Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy.’ by John Le Carre, which I absolutely loved. But which also made me want to start punching things and Le Carre. It’s really, really good. I hated it.

I’m also listening to an audio book on the commute: ‘Heart of Darkness’, which everyone must surely know. It’s read by Kenneth Brannagh. How I hate that book and his reading of it. Because they are both so bloody fantastic.

Just to cheer myself up after that, when I look back on this diary entry in years to come I might wish to remember a couple of school incidents from this week. In one lesson I was asking the kids what they had for breakfast and one girl answered ‘crap’, which I thought was remarkably honest and knowledgeable for a five year old. (It never occurred to me where she picked up that kind of language.) She didn’t seem too bothered by it though. I abandoned the lesson on possessive pronouns so that we might have a class discussion regarding how important it is to eat the right foods for health, especially with the most important meal of the day. It was only at the end of the lesson that I discovered the girl meant ‘crepe’, which is a type of pancake. It’s something in the vowel pronunciation.

In grade two we had something of an incident that despite my pleading had to go into the the school accident book. There had to be a first, I suppose. We were making headgear for decorating and wearing. We used coloured card, coloured pens, cotton wool and glue and stuff. When it came to securing the finished article around the children’s heads the instructions said use glue sticks. Well that was a waste of time. They kept falling open and then off under the attentions of their fiddling before the glue was dry. So, out of frustration and desperation I decided to staple the ends of the card together to hold them in place. The best way to do this was with the card wrapped around the individual’s head. At least I thought it was until I managed to put a staple right through one little sod’s ear. Looking back on it now, it serves him right for not keeping still. I didn’t realise the skin at the top of the ear held so much blood.

Update on my writing. Acer #3 is still in post-production. B&C #2 has now had a couple of read throughs and some alterations that make me fairly happy with it. I’m ready for my daughter (my greatest critic) to read it.

The new project is where all my energy is going now. I have a title and twenty thousand words. I think this could be my magnum opus. I really think this could be the one that takes me to the next level. I also think I’m going to have to change my habit of making stuff up as I go along and set about some planning. It’s a bit complex for my limited brain capacity.

12 thoughts on “The curse of being a writer.

  1. Two things. First, don’t talk about your wife because then she may want to talk to me about it, which is uncomfortable as hell for me. Second, can you possibly give me a version of the project you did that would allow me to staple teenagers.

  2. Did I? Where? She’s already warned me of the dire consequences of doing that again. Maybe that’s where I got the stapling idea from. No it wasn’t. I just remembered. She threatened to stable something else for me if I referred to her once more on here as my current-future-ex-wife because she got like a zillion phones calls from concerned friends who don’t get my sense of humour. (Of course, I wouldn’t be typing all this now and laying myself wide open to a midnight stapling if I hadn’t consumed those two glasses of cheap Turkish red wine in the last hour.) I’ll send the lesson plan in with lovely wife tomorrow.

  3. I had another author emailing me yesterday to say how down he was with things, it seems the constellations are at odds with each other: Venus is firmly stuck in Uranus.
    I too have felt like having a good rant, but considering I don’t have to go out and earn a living anymore – I’ve served my time on the chalk-face and it was more than a murderer gets – so I just go to the gym to swim it off.
    So here are a few tips for long and happy marriage.
    1) Take your wife breakfast in bed ever morning.
    2) Pay her attention.
    3) Give her a massage every night. (not that sort of massage – I know how your minds works)
    4) Buy her flowers every week.
    5) Help around the house.
    6) Take your child to the park every afternoon.
    7) If you have any time left you can prepare your lesson plans – but you should have done that
    8) Leave the grapes alone and have a brew instead.
    9) Now you can sit down and write.

    Hope this has been helpful to you, Oliver, I like to be useful, or have I just been struck-off your Christmas card list?

    • Hi Pat,
      Sorry for the delay. I only got back from hospital an hour ago. I had to be admitted after choking on my dinner while reading your no doubt good advice on maintaining a long and happy marriage. (I really must stop eating at the laptop.)
      It occurs to me that if I did half the things you suggest she-who-must-be-dismayed might want to have a conversation or something and surely that would just cut into that valuable writing time. Thanks, but I think I’ll leave well alone. You know what they say about sleeping dogs and stable doors.
      (PS I don’t do Christmas – not unless there’s a public holiday involved.)

      • Had a feeling you’d feel like that. Charles Dickens has nothing on you, Oliver: ba humbugging Xmas indeed. Can’t you just picture all those little children with faces of wonderment just waiting to open their pressies Santa’s just brought. No? I thought not. I just pity your poor wife, do you use hand signals to communicate with her? I only know of 3 hand gesticulations, and I use all three when dealing with my other half who still continues to ignore me even after he’s taken his hearing aids out. But he’s happy because I tell him to be.

  4. Isn’t it illegal to “clip” kids ears in Turkey? Hurry up with those books. The weather has turned miserable here in Swizzland and I need a decent book after all of the crepe that I’ve read recently. I just read patismith’s list above, on how to have a happy marriage!? Were all of William Wilberforce’s efforts in vain? Anyway, I’m going to pass on that lot, I’d rather just stay a happy man. 🙂

    • Hi Russell
      If it is it the law should be repealed. Going as fast as I can on the books. Got two in the post-production stages. Just waiting on the gent who does the proofreading.
      Please see my reply above to Pat. You’ll no doubt gather I’m with you on the list And I’m the happiest man I know. It’s my belief that if relationships have to be worked at they’re not worth having.

  5. Oliver something you should have learned by now ….marriage is like a pack of cards…in the beginning you have 2 hearts and a diamond…by the end you wish you had a club and a spade!!!

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