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10 Reasons Not to Be A Writer

I worry that sometimes in my blogs I have gone on a little bit too much about the wonders of being a writer, and so this time I’m giving the other side of the story.

Indeed, here are just the first ten reasons not to be jealous of writers.

1.     They have bad backs. Maybe not the debut writers, but by the time of their third or fourth novel, they can hardly walk. This is why Margaret Atwood has to be winched everywhere with the aid of a helicopter. It is why Salman Rushdie is eight inches shorter than he used to be. It is why Julian Barnes always clenches his jaw.

2.     They are depressed. Writers are miserable. Think of some of the saddest people in history – Woolf, Plath, Hemingway, Sexton, Poe, Tom Clancy – and ninety per cent of them are writers. They write because they are depressed. Even Dan Brown is depressed. Every single person you pass in the street has happier brain chemistry than Dan Brown. Probably. That’s why he has to hang upside down like Bruce Wayne between paragraphs. Possibly. And why he believes life is a kind of Countdown Conundrum designed by Dante or Da Vinci or albino priests. Possibly. And look, US website health.com says that writing is one of the top 10 professions most likely to lead to depression. So be jealous of happier people, like undertakers and debt collectors. Being a writer is deciding to live your whole life as if it was soundtracked by Radiohead.

3.     They are lonely. Ever wonder why a disproportionate number of writers are on Twitter and Facebook? Because they are the loneliest people in the universe. Some days, if there is a delivery, I will feel elated for having spoken to the man from DHL about the weather. I occasionally even try and keep him on the doorstep and pretend I like football.

4.     Financial uncertainty. Writers don’t get fixed wages. They have no idea when their next cheque is coming in, or how much it will be. Generally, it takes a long time. For instance, I am still waiting for a third instalment of  an advance I signed for in 2003, and which I spent in 2002.

5.     Other writers. One of the very worst things about being a writer is the existence of other writers. There are literally thousands of writers out there, and many of them will have better Amazon rankings than you and be placed in more prominent places in bookshops. Other writers win prizes and climb bestseller lists and are photographed at all the right events. Other writers are probably having a whale of a time, naked, rolling around on the floor, glugging absinthe with other naked people while they scream Beat Poetry up at the ceiling.

6.     Self-importance. If you are a writer you are spending weeks at a time burrowing deep into your own psyche, shining a flaming torch into its cobwebbed corners. And so there is a severe risk of being a bit of a shy, self-important tosser that no-one wants to speak to at parties.

7.     Dan Brown. Dan Brown. Dan Brown. Dan Brown. Dan Brown. Dan Brown. Dan Brown. Dan Brown. E L James. Dan Brown. Dan Brown. Dan Brown. Gillian Flynn. Dan Brown. Dan Brown. Dan Brown. (Bookshops.)

8.     Writer’s block. I was going to add to this point but I couldn’t think what to write.

9.     A writer gives up having a life for twelve months and comes out at the end of it with nothing to show for it but a one-star Amazon review written by someone in Idaho called JesusRainbowUnicorn who doesn’t like the reference to ‘acts of a sinful nature’ on page 439, third paragraph, second line.

10. Other people are not happier than you. This is especially the case with writers. Writers are never happier than you. Writers are always worrying about deadlines, editors, agents, royalties, book covers, public readings, blog reviews, whether they should move to NW1, lack of invites, the future of the book, unanswered emails, that retweet they shouldn’t have posted, updating their website. They are paid to be misery guts. Paid to wallow and absorb into themselves on gloomy voyages towards the ego. So yes, this weeks tip -don’t be a writer. If anyone has to be self-important and miserable and paranoid then I think it should be me. Now, if you’d like to excuse me, I’ve really got to go and stare out of the window for five hours. And maybe cry some pompous, Keatsian writer tears.

 

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What being published has taught me


In last week’s blog I pretty much reduced everything that happened to me in my formative years to an 800 word blog.

This week is a kind of sequel. And one in which I talk about my other life, my life since 2003, the year I got a publishing deal, and everything I have learnt since. Okay, deep breath, look straight ahead, here goes.
- Choose battles wisely.
- Choose agents even more wisely.
- Literary fiction is a genre that pretends it is not a genre.
- Editors are essential.
- If an editor is talking about culling their list in the first meeting, this is a bad sign. (more…)

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How writing saved my life

Apparently, more anti-depressants are prescribed in January than any other month. So I thought I’d write a little bit about words and mental health. In September 1999, in my early twenties, I suffered a breakdown.

After a few years of seriously heavy living, and various other life stresses, I became very ill indeed. I descended into a permanent state of dark anxiety and was diagnosed with panic disorder.

The only way I know how to describe panic disorder is as a kind of high speed depression. I would close my eyes and see literal demons. I could hardly leave the house without my girlfriend standing by my side. I was overwhelmed by something I did not understand – my own brain. For about three years my mind never came to a comma let alone a full stop. (more…)

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Why you should write

I tell you what annoys me. What annoys me is when people imply I have an easy job. Doesn’t that annoy everyone? I don’t know. But I bet brain surgeons get annoyed at parties when people say to them ‘oh, you are so lucky, I’d love to do some minimally invasive endoscopic surgery if only I had the time.’

Or doesn’t that happen?

Anyway, this idea that writers have it easy annoys me for two reasons. First, writing is not stamp-collecting. It is not some nice little hobby you do to wile away the hours. Writing – proper writing – is hard. It is exhausting. It eats you as it feeds you. It is the greatest joy sometimes, but like all the greatest joys it is hard-won. It is no winning lottery ticket. (more…)

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Writers and Twitter

The internet is the best thing that has ever happened for writers.

Not everyone agrees with this.

Some people wish writers would stay the hell off Twitter and stick to writing their books.

This week in particular there has been a lot of talk about the way authors use the internet. One successful writer has been branded a ‘monster’ for retweeting praise of his books.

Personally, I thought this was a bit harsh. But I would think that because I am also a ‘monster’. (more…)