Wednesday, 18 July 2012

The things that weigh me down

Up until this point in my writing life, I haven't taken myself too seriously. Since I was a little kid I knew I wanted to write, but I am too conservative, too cautious and yes, too afraid, to attempt to make a career of it.

There is the lack of money, of course. Very very few authors, even so-called successful ones, make a living writing fiction. This is especially true in Canada, where our reading market is tiny. The five living Canadian fiction authors you can name of the top of your head? Maybe four of them make enough money from the sale of their work to live entirely on the profits. Everyone else is hustling, marketing, teaching, applying for grants, writing think pieces...

It's not only the grim financial reality that is a deterrent. Not to get too dramatic, but the writer's life is a solitary one. To do the job, by definition, you need to spend a lot of time by yourself, in your own head... Struggling to find the right word or express the right idea. I do well in a crowd, and parking myself at a desk for 8 hours a day can be killer. At times I'm completely unmotivated and then I feel like a failure.

That's the other thing. When I finished my Masters in English, I felt enormous relief. I'd spent two years with a constant, nagging feeling that there was more I should be doing. There was always another article I should be reading, another book to be analysed, an essay that could be improved. I eventually figured out that the entire point of grad school is to overwhelm the student and force them to make choices about time management. You can't do everything, so you have to prioritise. Even that knowledge didn't alleviate the incessant, nagging guilt I felt at failing to do all of the work assigned to me.

When I finished school and started my first 9 to 5 job, it was like I had been freed. I put in my 8 hours a day, walked out of the office, and it was over. The rest of the time, was mine. I could veg in front of the TV, burn out my retinas in front of a Tetris Marathon or go for drinks without the incessant back of my mind voice telling me I SHOULD be doing something else...

Deciding to pursue writing again has changed that. It's reintroduced that feeling of "should" into my life. I'm not complaining (though I know it sounds like I am). I get a ton of satisfaction from figuring out how to express an idea or capture a feeling in words, but it has meant that on top of parenting the small person (which, also, I am not complaining about) and being a somewhat decent employee and somewhat thoughtful wife/friend, I've got to accept something else to feel guilty about.

Days when the words flow, or they sound trite and lame, I don’t think it’s worth it. Then I hit my stride and luck is with me and I write something I feel really good about, and then I realise that it’s worth all the guilt.

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