There are a bunch of “being a writer means” memes going round facebook right now. You know “this is what your mum thinks you do” [idiot staring at typewriter], “this is what your publishers think you do” [monkey sitting at typewriter], “this is what you really do” [playing solitaire/creating worlds].
It’s difficult to define what being a writer means – especially because it’s writers trying to define it, so you mostly get pithy little catchphrases that tell you nothing at all.
There are equal parts awe and disdain attached to the image of the writer. On the one hand writers are people who linger in thinking, who attempt to master language – the means by which we understand and experience the world – so that they can electrify another mind. On the other, they are people who exist more in their own minds than in the world, and strive hopelessly to perfect language – which just is, and can never be perfected – and to capture the human experience – which can never be captured, only experienced.
Or, you know, not.
Like I said – writers writing pithy (long-winded) statements that may or may not be true.
Here’s one concrete thing, though: The only difference between what I do now and what I did when I was eight years old writing hungrily in an A3 scrapbook is that now, writing is my profession.
That doesn’t come from being published – I’m not. It comes from the way I approach my writing, and the way I never write as a hobby, or to fill spare time, or when I’m anxious that I’m not getting enough done (which is when it’s hardest not to write, and simultaneously worst to write).
At the moment, being professional looks like this: Three days a week me and Cat go to the Victoria State Library and work from 10 till 5. We have two breaks. One day a week I travel to another friend’s house, and we have a slightly more relaxed, but always-productive writing day. Once a fortnight we have a writers-group-with-wine, and once a month I go to the Melbourne Romance Writers Guild meeting. Where there’s chocolate.
The first day Cat and I wrote at the Library, we looked at each other afterwards, both embarrassed. “Er, why haven’t we been doing this ALL THE TIME?” was more or less our reaction.
There is an incredible productivity in being somewhere so dense with silence, with concentration – but with such high, light ceilings. Soft air conditioning. A desk, and a good chair. Sometimes I need to close myself into my own world with music, and sometimes the library sounds help me sink into a scene. But for those hours, it’s just me and my story, and there’s nowhere else I’m meant to be, and there’s nothing else I’m meant to be doing.
Like I said – productive.
My sister (who develops and manages projects for a living) helped me get a handle on my new way of working, and the thing she said to me that made the biggest difference was this: “You need to work away from home. Other people finish work at 5, and after that they do their house cleaning and their cooking. That’s how many hours a day you need to be working to get things done.”