Let’s get physical!

Author Joanna Cannon appeared to have it all. Written during snatched moments in car parks at the hospital where she worked as a psychiatrist, Joanna’s first novel, The Trouble with Goats and Sheep, garnered the lifestyle that many a writer would aspire to and an £300000 advance. But she has surrendered all that. As reported in the Guardian newspaper, (30.03.17), she is now returning to healthcare. Now why would a writer do that?

Writers have always needed day jobs. The idea is: you do something which does not interfere too much with your creative process but pays the bills and, in this uncertain world, the idea of your writing supporting you and your growing family is an attractive one. But quite often, it remains just that, an idea.

The idea of a financially-supportive day job is, of course, not new. In a New York Public Library blog – The Day Jobs of 10 Famous Writers written by Nicholas Parker, Communications (05.07.17) – George Bernard Shaw is revealed to have been a telephone demonstrator; Charlotte Bronte was famously a governess and Arthur Conan Doyle performed surgery. Kurt Vonnegut sold cars.

But, if, when not writing, you need a day job, make sure it has the special features which are designed to prop up your real work, the work you were put on earth to do, ie writing your magnum opus. According to corporate lawyer and ‘Sorcerer to the Crown’ author Zen Cho, (writing in the Writers’ Digest (30.07.16) some of the crucial questions could be:

  • Will this job be flexible enough to give you time and space to write?
  • Will your working hours’ schedule/routine be predictable?
  • Will you be allowed to move away from your desk?
  • Will your job be too intellectually and socially stimulating and take the edge of you?

Too much rigidity on these points and you can kiss goodbye to your creativity.

Even more attractive may be the health benefits that a physical day job can offer a sedentary writer who sits, without moving, for hours on end, gazing crookedly at a computer screen with the uppers of coffee laced with the downers of shots of hard liquor.

Writer and woodland community leader Tobias Jones, in the Society of Authors publication, The Author Vol ccxxvii no 3 (Autumn 2015), describes some of these health benefits. Jones lauds, for example, the endorphin-rich effect of sinking thirty stakes in a field. This activity, he implies, could counter some of writing’s harmful effects. These may range from musculo-skeletal problems related to seated inactivity to physical stress symptoms which can include anything from a headache to chronic indigestion and worse. As he says of this stake-sinking, ‘You get the buzz, but an end result as well.’

Tobias Jones also commends some of the ‘quick results’ manual labour can deliver. These may include:

  1. Self-esteem – which comes from having something to show for your efforts
  2. Enhanced problem-solving skills – Consider the problem-solving skills needed for a plot twist. Practice in carpentery can only help.
  3. Quality standards – you can’t fudge. For example, if you are an electrician, you stand or fall upon fact such as ‘Do the lights go on and off?’. If you’re a writer, there is a grey area between success and failure.
  4. Companionship with a sense of purpose – you’ll notice this at ship launches.
  5. An opportunity to ‘observe’ – We’re back to ‘content’ here.
  6. Humility – a check and balance to the delusion of grandeur required of writers.
  7. And there is of course the delights of the stable income!

Nevertheless, for all this – along with loneliness, melancholia, lack of spiritual balance – writers still want to write. So it’s worth adding a suitable day job into the mix. The right day job can also give your writing, substance, relevance and content and may just save your sanity. What would you choose as yours?

With a little Help from my Friends – Reasons to join a Writers’ Group

When I first announced that I wanted to attend a writing group – as a participant not a facilitator – someone looked me blankly in the eye and asked ‘Why?’ There I was, the author of two novels, a long-serving and published freelance journalist, a writing coach, a writing group facilitator …?

But, since that question was asked, it hasn’t taken me long to think of six reasons why I should. A little more time and I could probably think of more.

So – here we go:

  1. As a working writer, you need beta readers. These informed non-professional ‘readers’ can tell in a flash what works and what doesn’t in a chunk of your work in progress (WIP).
  2. Reading aloud shows you the flaws in your own piece. When you run out of breath, for example, you know your sentence is too long.
  3. During tea-break, you have the stimulus of chatting to like-minded folk over a custard cream. Introverted writers can be lonely people. A writers’ group connects you to the human race.
  4. The writers’ group can set a standard, set the bar. You may be way above it but ‘Oh, how comforting!’ You may fall well below – in which case, try harder.
  5. The writers’ group – with their friends and family – make up a possible market. If you entertain them, they may remember your book when doing their Christmas shopping.
  6. A writers’ group is a pool of distilled wisdom and knowledge. One off-piste discussion at a writers’ group I attended recently embraced the funeral customs of Europe and how they differed. Inspiration for another piece of writing!

So, where do you find these wonderful groups of people? Local libraries, colleges and universities are sure to welcome you to their Continuing Education Creative Writing groups. Or, in the UK, contact the National Association of Writers’ Groups to find a group near you. In the rest of the English-speaking world, there are similar organisations. Personally, I belong to a U3A (University of the Third Age) group. This is an international organisation(see WorldU3A) and I wouldn’t be without them!