A Writer’s Life: The Unmentioned Side Effects
There are a million books that will tell you how to write a novel (95% of them useless) but very few authors talk about the side effects of choosing such a career. The following ramble comes as I get ready to start the outline for a new thriller but end up watching the rain fall.
You will be alone. Note I say ‘alone’ and not ‘lonely’. You need to be able to enjoy your own company. As a child I had a few friends but my abiding memory is traipsing to and from libraries by myself. This is partly because of the pre-social network period in which I grew up, and the fact that it was in England. It also explains why I spend part of my year in Spain, The Spanish like to live on top of each other, fuss over other people’s children and interfere in each others’ lives.
In ‘The Ghosts of Spain’ (a book every Europhile should read), Giles Tremlett describes a poor old Spanish man who moved to England, ruffled a child’s hair and ended up at the police station for it. The English are hysterically obsessed with privacy. The real-life cases I describe at the start of each chapter in ‘Psychoville’ all hinge on matters of invaded privacy.
Paradoxically, this makes the writer’s life harder, not easier.
Encouraged to be separate, we close ourselves off completely and stop writing about real life. To reverse this harm I get to Spain and top up with noisy street-life-crazy reality. There was a period when Stephen King virtually isolated himself from the world and only wrote about his milieu. It’s not a good thing for someone hoping for a long career. Happily, he came out of it and I think his books improved.
There’s a joke with a kernel of truth in it; When I was a child we were so poor that we could never go out, because we couldn’t afford clothes. My mother saved up for a hat so I could look out of the window. If you find yourself stuck and your work suffering, change your environment, just for a weekend.
Sorry, had to break off for a second there. Just got a text from an American friend; I just finished Spanky. You are one twisted puppy. Yay, feedback! Which brings me to the next point – you’ll no longer have any structure in your working life so you’ll need to create some. Weekends – what are they? Clockwatching – what’s that? You may not carry your characters around in your head all the time but you’ll start considering every second spent with a beloved dying relative to be one where you could have been writing.
You can solve this by fixing yourself a very strict schedule, and breaking it with meals, books, box sets, research, drinks, friends. While you’re writing, make the time count. It’s your home-run business — so no distractions, no interweb noodling or phonecalls. People will think that because you’re home you’re interruptible – put them straight on that one. Got it? Good. Now you only have to concern yourself with the easy part; the book.