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Monday, 16 July 2012

The Universe and Society vs Art

Weird things happen when you try to write part-time. I'm pretty sure they happen to full-time writers as well, but since I've never had that perspective, I can only talk about it from the other side of the road.

Sometimes it feels like the entire universe is hovering over you, waiting for the chance to punch you in the face. This usually happens when you've just recovered from the last serious issue, are back on track and writing again, and the birds are chirping and the sun is shining and your mind is in fluffy kitten and unicorn territory.

And it's often arbitrary things. Like the flu. Or the stomach bug I had last weekend that killed four or five writing days for me, because I couldn't look at a screen without whimpering and making gentle heaving motions. Travelling for work and forgetting your power-cord for the net-book, trying to write during your lunch hour and having everything commented on (loudly) in Spanish by some annoying female you don't even know but would dearly like to slap, being too scared to take the net-book in during torrential rain because if it fries you are screwed - and losing those five hours of writing you could have had for the week as a result. Saving your book and realising the next time you open your programme that you had a bug that has just wiped the entire frigging thing off the map, and your last back-up seems to have corrupted.

Sometimes it's not so arbitrary. The first Crescent book I wrote was destroyed by a jealous boyfriend who couldn't accept the fact that I wasn't cuddled up to him on the couch watching t.v. twenty-four seven and cooing adoringly when he opened another beer. This was back in the days when hard disks and floppy's still existed, and believe me when I say they did not stand up to being stamped by a fairly large bloke in work-boots.

That and a few other moments of trauma (not relationship related) meant it was years before I tried writing another book. I still played with short stories but full length stuff - nope. It took a good long while before I did that again.

But the thing is, eventually I did it. I stopped telling myself I couldn't do it, or it wasn't worth it, and I started another one. It was awful. Tried another. Oh, mummy. That one was bad. Start again.

I moved to London and started re-writing the last one, the one that didn't make me cringe too much when I put the disk in and had a re-read.

In the meantime I got a short published in a US fanzine, and pretty much did the happy dance for a year on that one.

Broke my leg. Six months of not being able to spell my own name, (I have no idea why anyone thinks drugs make you more creative. The stuff sure doesn't help me much, and I don't like feeling stupid. Then again, they were NHS strength pain-killers) let alone do any decent writing. Started re-writes again after that. In the meantime, I started a university course and work stepped up a notch when I was allowed back full-time.

The point is, real-life happens. A lot of writers - especially the folks doing this part-time - are also looking after kids, mortgages, and a whole bunch of real-life stuff I don't need to worry about. I have no idea how they manage, but they do. And every time - every single time - the universe bitch-slaps them, they get up and keep doing it. They keep writing.

And the reason this is amazing is because most folks, when you tell them you write, or that you want to write,  don't consider it a real job. The same applies to my musician friends, struggling artists, and actors that I've met.

It's a pretty weird attitude because every single one of those people - the ones that roll their eyes and make comments about you wanting to be the next J.K. Rowling (different audience, but frankly, I'd love her sales) or sweetly advise you that you'll never pay the bills doing it - every single one of them watch t.v. or movies, download music and rave fanatically about their favourite bands, or wait breathlessly for the next book in the series they HAVE to have. Every. Single. One. They all need entertainment, they all desperately want their chosen favourite to lift them away from their everyday life - but they don't consider it a real job. They don't think of it as work.

None of the folks who shake their head when I say I write would do that if I told them I was studying to be a plumber or electrician. They wouldn't tell a kid who dreams of being a footballer to get their head out of the clouds, or laugh at the older girl trying to get her nursing diploma part-time.
I'm not sure why, but I think it stems from the impression that art - all art - is something intangible, that it's created by gently rocking in a hammock while sipping a cold beer, and The Artist waves a little finger and Something Great is Created.
They don't realise that behind the guy on stage making that guitar walk and talk are years of frustration and bleeding fingers and lugging your gear into lousy bars and hoping nobody throws a full beer can at your head tonight. They don't realise that the artist selling their paints for £800 a pop spent three frigging years drawing rotting fruit in a stuffy classroom before they figured out how to see an apple properly, or the absolute ecstasy that came with that switch. The dancer with blood and torn corns in her ballet shoes, the actor that marches into an audition with a confident strut and smile and walks ten miles home because he can't afford the bus fare.The writer that pounds on a keyboard until her legs and fingers go numb because it's snowing and she can't afford to cover the heating bills so the furnace isn't on, and will go and thaw out under a pile of blankets and then write some more.

They don't know, and one of the reasons they don't know is because we sell them dreams. We sell moments of time that transport them and if we do it well, they never know the effort behind it. Because dreams break easily, folks. They splinter and crack like fine crystal in a deep freeze, and we know it, and we will move everything to make sure that doesn't happen. We wrap them in pretty shiny packages and we give them to someone else and hope that dream works for them, just for a little bit, because we can't stop dreaming. We can't stop producing. And that takes work.

I can't fix your plumbing, change your wiring, or perform open-heart surgery. But I can produce little dreams, little moments in time for you, and I will keep doing so. Even if I have to keep the day job.

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J H Sked is the author of WolfSong , Basement Blues , Die Laughing , and Quarter the Moon  and a contributor to Sweet Dreams, all of which are on Amazon and enrolled in the Kindle lending programme.