Comment: The Writer's Life, by Rupert Wallis
In a time when the literary is undervalued, how do you prepare for the real life of a writer?
After teaching for just a few months at Falmouth, it’s clear to me that one of the things full-time students are buying themselves is the luxury of time for writing. A by-product of this is that studying for a university degree is also a way for students to legitimise their status as writers. I’m all for it. Whether you believe creative writing courses and modules can teach one how to write or not there are obvious benefits in being allowed to be a writer, devoting time to the writing and rewriting of creative work, experimenting with ideas and form. But does this reflect the real world where authors have to juggle life (its financial commitments, emotional pressures and expectations) with their creative endeavours?
The answer, when considering the vast majority of novelists, is probably no. As an author, one of the fiercest challenges I face is to achieve a healthy balance between finding time for my writing with the everyday demands of living in the real world. With this in mind I’m always fascinated to learn how authors combine their writing process with everyday living and, in particular, how new writers, struggling to have their first novel published, carve out time to produce a manuscript.
Common wisdom dictates you shouldn’t give up your day job unless your writing career is well under way because it’s not a career path that guarantees riches for the majority of authors. If you don’t believe me, here's a look at how hard it is for the majority of authors to make a living out of writing. Whether you’re an unpublished hopeful, a debut author, or indeed mid-career, it’s highly likely you’re going to be juggling writing with other ways of making a living.
The need for diversification creates the obvious difficulty of finding the time to write, of shoehorning in a trip to an imaginary world to be with fictional people, whilst all around you the real world is making requirements of you, draining you down. It can be hard to flick the creative switch to ‘on’ if you’re tired out by the ‘day’ job.
Inspiration is a trickster, always trying to convince you it’s something too precious to command, but coaxed and cajoled it must be until your fingers are flitting over the keyboard. One develops tricks to help with this but there’s no substitute for gritting your teeth, sitting down and grinding out the words. And this is one of the most valuable lessons one must learn as an author, that writing is an act, something that must be done, to make your ideas matter, because it is a simple truism that if you don’t write you aren’t a writer.
Some authors find inspiration from doing other jobs alongside their writing because there is the opportunity for cross-pollination, allowing one’s creativity to be informed and enriched by other experiences. I guess it depends on the type of writer you are and how precious you feel your writing time is. But my advice for those who will soon be leaving the protective and time-friendly writing environment of full time university study is to fully embrace the pressures that life will bring to bear on your writing routines. If you acknowledge the lack of time available to you then you’ll have to become a more focused and efficient writer during those snatched moments of escape from everyday living.
It may just be the making of you, for learning how to become an author is just as important as learning the process of writing, yet this is a lesson that can perhaps only be learned in the crucible of the real world where time is a precious commodity.
Rupert Wallis is a Lecturer in Creative Writing. He has published two YA books to date, The Dark Inside and All Sorts of Possible, and his new novel for children will be published in August this year. You can keep up with Rupert on Twitter at @rupertwriter or toss him a line at Rupert.firstname.lastname@example.org.