Note to readers: This is the third of a three part series exploring my desire to become a writer. You will find first post here.
I finished my last post saying that, through blogging, I found myself writing for the sake of writing. In the end, I decided that writing was what I wanted to do in this last stage of my life. The long but partially submerged itch had developed into a fully blown disease.
This post describes the confusions and conflicts that resulted.
Let me start with a very basic question, what do I mean by writing and writers? This may sound a simple question, but it lies at the heart of my personal confusions.
In my first post in this series I said that my original desire to write was little more than a romantic dream. In my second post, I said that one reason why the dream receded to the background lay in the fact that my work required me to write all the time. There was limited time, less desire, to write outside the purely professional. Those two posts encapsulate the confusions I now face.
It's fair to say that my original romantic dream centred on the romance of writer as Writer. As I said then, I was fascinated by the lives of the writers I read about. They weren't always attractive people, their lives were often confused, most struggled with money, but some found wealth and fame.
To a boy from a secure middle class academic/political New England family, this was a window into a new world. They might be strange, but they were interesting. I dreamed of writing the great novel, indeed a great anything, that might lead to fame and success. Even starving in a garret (a concept originally applied to writers rather than painters) seemed somehow romantic. Not, mind you, that I had any real idea of what a garret was!
While the dream receded, I still carried through elements of it into the present in a way that I did not properly realise. We now come to the second element, my subsequent writing. Here I because I was writing for a purpose, the writing was a means to an end. No matter how good the writing might be, I did not classify myself as a writer because I wasn't writing as a Writer.
When I decided a bit over two years ago that in the last stages of my life I wanted to be a writer rather than someone who simply wrote, the original dream was in fact alive and well. However, the major projects that I had in mind were not writing projects per se, but rather specific pieces of work intended for other purposes. My writing was in fact, as it had been before, a means to an end.
This may sound confused, and indeed in some ways it is, so let me try to illustrate.
My history of New England is a history whose genesis lies deep in my past. I am not writing that history because I want to be a writer. I am writing it because I want to write a history of New England; my writing is a means to an end. However, because I now classify myself as a writer, I find myself focusing on the writing process rather than the specific result, the delivery of the history.
I could have focused on my role as a free-lance historian in the way that the Canadian historian Christopher Moore does. Instead, I chose to focus on my writing. Mind you, Christopher classifies himself as an historian and writer.
The nature of the confusions created were highlighted in a simple way. Once I started describing myself as a writer, people asked me what I wrote. Was I a novelist, a poet, a playwright? Well, clearly no. I mainly write non-fiction. Further, I write across genres. After I had explained all this, questions often shifted to money. How did I earn my living?
This raised another difficult issue. I used to explain that I was doing contract work to provide an income stream to support my writing. That's true enough, but it also conceals.
There is very little money in professional writing. Most writers are like isolated chooks, scratching a a few crumbs on the margin of the flock. Those who do make something approaching a living often do so by contract writing, using their writing skills to deliver things like manuals or documents that the client cannot do themselves.
When I shifted my mental classification of myself to that of writer, I started looking for writing jobs. Here I struck a problem. It turns out that I actually don't want to do many of the jobs advertised.
For example, I am a reasonably good editor, I have done a lot of it, but I really don't want to spend hours in front of a document trying to turn it into good English where my role is limited solely to the editing task. Mind you, it does depend upon the document to some degree. My problem lies with the stock-standard document, especially where I have some professional knowledge of the subject matter.
It's not just that the task is sometimes as boring as bat shit, although that may be unfair to bats. More importantly, I find that my pen itches to improve the content to the point that it's actually quite painful. I find that I take very little satisfaction in turning badly written crap into well written crap when it's still crap! I would be better off with the original content creation task where my writing was actually a secondary factor.
I found another problem as well.
I have quite a high-powered basic CV. That shouldn't be surprising, given the things that I have done. Now that I wanted short term contract work to support my writing, I found my CV to be a real impediment to getting work. Finally, I sought advice from a colleague occupying a senior management role in the area that I was targeting.
His advice was blunt: "Jim, no manager is going to give you work when you obviously have so much more experience than them and probably a great deal more basic ability.They may not say it, but that's the reality."
I intend to write something on this properly at some point for it's actually quite important in considering labour market flexibility, especially for older people. For the moment, I simply note that it is a problem that was further compounded by my attempts to rewrite my CV to better reflect my immediate aspirations and especially my desire to be a writer.
Now where am I going in all this? How do I pull it all together?
Regardless of whether or not I capitalise it, I am clearly a writer: I have let that genie out of the bottle; I cannot go back; I must write. However, I am also more than that. I am both a writer and a person who writes with intent. I am an historian, a sometimes economist, a consultant and a manager. I am a father, a partner, and an often very confused person.
In this next stage in my life, I have to learn how to use these various roles to support what I want to do. I find this confusing, but also exciting.