This Writing Life

One track mind… or turning the corner to common sense?

So Philip Roth has decided to retire from writing. Well he is about 80, so I suppose retirement is on the cards, but I wonder whether he means he is going to stop writing altogether, or to stop writing novels for money.

Which brings me to the fact that I have had an epiphany. All my life I have written, but not considered myself a writer. Oh, yes, I put writer on that blurb on the ‘Whom am I’ page, you’ll find it on my Twitter bio, you’ll hear me rant on about my writing day and notice me passing on advice that I have found valuable or interesting. I’ve had short stories published and some people who read some of my stuff say nice things. But  to me, a writer has always meant ‘published author’. Books on the shelf.

I loved books from when I was a little girl. I cannot remember a time when I was unable to read. By the time I went to school, I was fairly proficient and when I had to change schools at age six, very much supported by the fact that my mother managed to tell the school I was only five(!), they thought they had an infant prodigy on their hands! I insisted I was six and was most indignant with my mother when I came home.

Things were rectified quickly enough, but not before I was put into a class a year older than my peers. The prodigy bit was soon dispelled as I was pretty much rubbish at everything else, but I stayed in that class as I went through school and thus read books which were far less boring and much more challenging than might have been introduced to the year below. And having discovered how wonderful a book could be, I wanted to write one. More than one. Hundreds. It was my goal in life.

But books don’t mean the same any more. Celebrity authors and E-readers (I’m not really knocking them, I’ve got one as well) have taken something away from ‘the book’. The ability for every Tom, Dick and Big Boob-ed Star to find some way into print mean that prize of publication is just a little less rose-tinted.

I have toyed with self-publishing and I know that for me it won’t feel the same. I don’t have anything against it, and the publishing world being what it is these days, maybe I am wrong, but it isn’t what I have sought since I was a child.

However, I do wonder at Philip Roth’s statement. He is on record as saying that writing is just too hard to continue. He has lost touch with real life and wants to dump writing in favour of finding that again. I know he’s 80, and for all I know it’s a struggle for him to actually remain upright at the computer long enough to bash out a sentence, but I can’t imagine a time when I wouldn’t write something. Anything. Full length novel, short story, article, poem, blog or letters to the Times, just that the compulsion to write is so strong I couldn’t envisage not having it.

I’m still not what I would call a writer, that amazing career option that horrified everyone in school. My mother mocked my first attempts at a novel (I was about eight) and threw up her hands in disgust when I suggested I might be a writer when I grew up. (She was even more horrified by the idea of actress, with which I briefly flirted at about the age of sixteen!) And now I’m an artist, which is just as precarious! In England, it’s probably true to say that most parents would be mortified with the idea of anyone pursuing any sort of creative career. You’d get away with it in France, where they have more sang froid and more respect for the creatives of the world.

Would I have been any more sympathetic if a child of mine had decided to announce their intention to be a writer? Hmm, I’d like to think so, but the need for them to make enough money to eat might have made me blanch.

Yet those of  us who scribble away without the backing and security of a publisher, an agent, a few royalties and someone out there hanging on for news of the next book, know that they will still write.

It isn’t a choice, this writing life.

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17 responses to “This Writing Life

  1. Splendid post – you are absolutely spot on about everything. Philip Roth ‘giving up’ writing is just odd. English parents don’t encourage creativity enough – even though mine did, it was still not really seen as a viable career option, not involving a tie or a regular salary. And yes, self-publishing does feel like one step short of the dream, even though I don’t actually regard it as any less real or important when others do it.

    • No I don’t regard it as less important when others do it either, which I suppose is weird. It just isn’t what I began writing to do.
      My parents didn’t discourage creativity – my father was an artist and my mother was very creative – needlework and knitting – but it just wasn’t seen as a job. My father had a boring job as an accountant, and practiced his art in his spare time. He was always a somewhat frustrated though very talented painter. And in other countries, creatives are called artisans and are valued for what they produce. Here, it’s just seen as ‘home made’. Very peculiar.

  2. I think when it’s in your ‘water’ so to speak – you can’t help but write, paint, make music etc.

  3. Pat, I am one of your avid followers who say “You Write Beautifully!!!! I too love books. Not E-Books or Kindle Books but REAL books that smell of paper. I love the feel of paper and seeing my bookcases filled with books. I have always said it is my dream to write a book – Publish is far too optimistic! I will still write a book – one day… Wish I had your talent and knowledge though! Keep writing!

    • You’re always so sweet and kind. I don’t know where you find the energy.
      And you do write. You write the most amazing stuff, born of pain and knowledge and sheer grit and I don’t know how you manage it. You have a book sitting right there, on your blog. One day, maybe, you might take another look at that.
      Thank you Tersia. You keep writing too! 🙂

  4. For me, it is not a choice… it is a compulsion. I would even go so far as to say an addiction. I cannot go very long without writing something.

    • Yep, compulsion. My hand has written something or drawn something for as long as I can think it was able to hold a pencil. Addiction sounds about right.
      Which is why I find Philip Roth’s comments a bit odd.

  5. You never retire from writing. Philip Roth may never write another thing for as long as he may live but he is still a writer and even if his pen never again touched paper or his fingers never again touch a keyboard, he will still be a writer. He will still have ideas and maybe every now and then he will smile and says, “Were I younger, I might write that down.”

    Also, Pat, you ARE a writer. The minute you decided to write something for the pure joy of putting your thoughts in to words for the world to read, you became a writer. There are two types of writer, in my opinion. There are writers and there are “professional” writers and the only difference between the two is that the latter gets paid to do it and usually not very much.

    Keep writing, Pat.

    By the way, I shared this article on my Facebook page and even quote the last line. So there you have, you have officially been quoted. Maybe a hundred years from now, another writer will find that quote in some old, archaic Internet archive and say, “Wow, that Pat sure knew what it meant to be a writer.”

    • Sorry, I had to reply to my own comment. I just re-read it and balked at all of the spelling and grammar mistakes. If I didn’t love being a writer so much, I’d hate it.

      • Think we all do the spelling and grammar horrors in comments, don’t we? Thank it must have to do with excitement at being able to get a few more words down in a place where we wouldn’t normally be allowed to!

    • Wow Shawn. Thank you for the share and you also made me laugh… posterity gets a bit of me after all! 🙂
      But yes, that was my epiphany I suppose. I write therefore I am kind of thing, which I suppose looking back I didn’t actually say in that post.
      And I don’t see how Philip Roth will cope with not writing anything. I bet he sneaks the odd short story out or begins to write a column for a paper, even at his great age!
      Thank you so much – and not just because you shared to Facebook, but I’ve been on here a little over three months and I hadn’t ever really thought about doing that with anyone’s post. I try to push some of my posts across to mine but I will keep in mind that I could do it with anyone’s.
      Brilliant thought.

  6. Pingback: Very Inspiring Blogs | The Wizard's Tower

  7. Pingback: 5 Writing Tips from Laini Taylor « Aegis Publishing House Aegis Publishing House

    • Thank you for the reference to my article on your blog – enjoyed reading the 5 Writing Tips from Laini. Especially liked the ‘write about the scene you’re writing’. That is such a good idea.
      And ‘Be an unstoppable force’ – sometimes that is so hard. Life intervenes and it is hard to say NO and still be nice. I am very bad at this. Always think I’m quite assertive and then find myself doing all sorts of things when I’d rather be writing.

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