Ruthless

My God, but writing is a ruthless, selfish business, utterly incompatible with parenthood, friends, a social life, marriage, work or all-purpose general connectivity with other human beings.

Somewhere in every book about writing, there’s an abjuration to make sacrifices and investments. Give up exercise, get a room of your own. Stop date night (you could be writing), and rent a table at a local cafe with no distracting piped music and no wifi. The implication is that if you mean it, if you really, really mean it, the writing is all that counts in your life and everything else that elbows its way is an unpleasant distraction from the core business of writing. In When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit, Mama and Papa slept in separate rooms so Papa could get on with his writing undisturbed (I have to confess that’s how I finished a dissertation after the birth of our daughter, little elf. But that’s another story).

There’s something wrong with that picture.

I mean, yes, you have to write everyday. I’m an enthusiastic subscriber to the ‘guilt trip’ method where every day I fail to write something that counts (and blog posts, tweets and HE institutional policy papers unfortunately don’t) is a day for flagellation and wailing. Drives my family nuts. But there are reasonable limits.

Without a life to draw on, or a family who feel looked after, I’m no kind of a rounded human being, and if I’m not a rounded human being, I’m no kind of a writer at all. So my current programme demands 500 words a day minimum and it has to be squashed into a place where it has little or no impact on the people who expect stuff from me. If I ever get leave work on time (probably because I’ve arrived early) I take it as read that I can steal an extra half an hour in a tea-shop somewhere on the way home. If I’m on a train out of hours, ditto. At weekends, my partner makes space for me on a Sunday or, if I do the shopping, its understood that I’ll find a corner and a cup of tea somewhere on the way and write. The core of my work practice, of course, is Lunch Hour, without which I’d probably never write anything. Like most things, it’s a compromise and a constant process of negotiation and I’ve had to learn new tricks. But it’s got me through two and bit drafts so far of the current WIP and it’s a workrate that at least allows me to envision completing the thing. If you want to formalise it, you could always sign up to Debbie Ridpath Ohi of Inky Girl fame’s Word A Day Challenge. It can help with that extra bit of motivation if you’ve put it out there on a badge.

Better not ask me about holidays, though.  Now, excuse me but I’ve still got 500 words to write. Though a bit of me is hankering after the last half of Apocalypse Now or, say, eating.

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About Dad Who Writes (Gabriel)

Writing, reading, listening, parenting... On Twitter as @dadwhowrites. View all posts by Dad Who Writes (Gabriel)

13 responses to “Ruthless

  • John Pseudonymous

    I hear you. I do the guilt thang myself. On nights we have a sitter for the kids, I’ll even sometimes feel bad for actually going out and enjoying myself instead of locking myself in the Writing Cave. Actually sitting and writing can conflict with just about any part of real life. I just need to give myself a break on days I feel like I’m slave-driving myself because when I’m frustrated I can’t write well anyway.

    • Dad Who Writes (Gabriel)

      What would we do without the writing cave? That space is so crucial though. One can’t deny that Woolf was on to something and not just for women (though one has to acknowledge a very different set of contextual drivers in terms of her actual polemic and its purpose).

  • Mwa (Lost in Translation)

    I like that. Women tend to find this obvious, but I haven’t often heard a man talk like this. Respect!

  • Achelois

    Oh I know what you are talking about!

  • charlotteotter

    Finding the time and space to write is a battle, and probably the reason why my first draft took 15 months to complete. Good for you for committing to those 500 words.

  • J

    I’m not a writer, so I can’t speak to the guilt…but I honestly think that more important than your writing is your life, your happiness, and your family, so it’s better to try to have some well roundedness in there somewhere.

    I do suspect, though, that some of the geniuses that we all admire had none of this, and ignored their families horridly. Not that it’s required, just that it sometimes happens. Don’t let it happen to you. These are the writers who drink too much and destroy their livers.

  • joem18b

    Hi, Gabriel. I just surfed over from BlogLily’s and I enjoyed your post.

    I used to carry around a clipboard with blank paper on it and I’d write while waiting in line or at home in a chair or, well, wherever. I’d revise on the page, rewrite on a clean page, and I found that I was often thinking about my story when out and about. The words flowed. Finally I’d drag out a typewriter and commit a draft to print.

    Then computers arrived and at some point, I became attached to my keyboard. 😦

    For all the convenience of laptops, iPads, and the Internet, I sometimes wish that I was still working longhand. I think that I felt closer to the words that I wrote. I could still be doing that, of course, but I don’t because I don’t want the burden of transferring my work from paper to files. Seems inefficient.

    • Dad Who Writes (Gabriel)

      Hey! Thank you! I sometimes miss using a typewriter but I still find myself writing in long hand when I’m working things out. We’ll be off on holiday for a week and I’ll be taking an A4 notepad, notes for the next draft and a lot of spare ink cartridges. I’ll have to type it all up when I get back but at least it’ll get a further bit of polish.

  • mizmell

    Sounds like a lot of (self-imposed) pressure… Not that it’s a bad thing! Sounds a lot like the last two semesters I have had at school–busy reading and writing while hoping for time to eat and sleep. Time moves entirely too fast! But I do realize that sometimes its just a matter of finding what works. I’ve bookmarked the site you suggested and maybe I can get back on the blogging bandwagon.

  • norarachel

    My first thought was that this sounds wrong to me. Then again I have all but given up the blog in favor of a more intense job and running, plus the already time-involved raising of children and occasional smile at the husband. So maybe it is about what drives you, what feels wrong if it isn’t there. If writing is that then giving up running (though not the kids and husband) is worth it.

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