Much has been made of the impending "extreme weather event" (read: snow fall) in the UK, with "extreme weather warnings" sent out everywhere and spreading like wildfire. True to form, panicked Englishfolks ran into the supermarket in WWII-style panic buying sprees. I have to admit, I did check how much milk and eggs we have in the fridge. I hate buying food when everybody else does.
The situation is decidedly anti-climactic this morning. Trains are running late (but that's no different from normal times), there's a bit of snow, but no shutdown of overall British civilization. The snow has made all headlines, but it's just a couple inches, and not a snow flake in sight in inner city London. I am rather amazed that this is the same country that stoically bore the Blitz and built an empire in which the sun never set - panic buying and inability to salt the streets and get trains running on time seem inconsistent. It's been snowing in other countries in continental Europe and none of that makes headline news. Yes, I checked. (Update: Okay, there seem to be a couple articles about generally "cold weather", and some mocking of the Britons going on).
News-wise, the day is slow, but this just went through the team emails:
What happens when Cadbury and Nestle merge.
What is quite interesting is the question why our "pre-book lives" matter. The Guardian blog talk about the question here.
I'd argue that our "outside lives" matter even more. There are so few writers who turn fulltime after one sale that those numbers are statistically insignificant. The vast majority is the "working writer". Fulltime job, and writing. A few (very few) work part time. Most fulltime writers I know are on disability benefits, are subsidised by their partners/families, are still in education, or retired. Many of them live in financially extremely hazardous situations. One illness for many of my US friends means bancruptcy, for example. Others live very frugal lives. The rich writer is a myth. Writing is not a lifestyle, it's often an affliction that keeps us from devoting ourselves to careers such as banking which pays much better. You can't really write novels on an 80-hour-work week. Okay, I can't.
I've done any number of odd jobs over the last twenty years. Paper rounds, teaching English, German, and whatever I knew better than other people willing to pay for it, editing, I even worked at a gas station making sandwiches (since then, I've never again eaten a sandwich from a place I don't know/trust, go figure). I did security work and ghostwriting/research, even layout. I worked on a construction site for a little. I now feed a newswire as a journalist.
Even though there's sometimes this "I wish I could write full-time" feeling/discussion, I actually do think that a writer should experience "real life", and as much of it as possible, as long as it doesn't destroy the writing.
I've read too many books where writers write about writing, but who really cares about writers, who can relate to that? What we are doing is profoundly boring. If we don't stare at a screen, typing, we talk to/about people that don't exist in the flesh, we despair over finding the right turn of phrase - when really any turn of phrase would do - we suffer post-partum depression after every novel, we are those that have to be dragged to parties, then stare glassy-eyed into the distance, scribble on napkins, and plot our escape to the nearest computer.
Most often, I prefer the company of my "story people" to that of real people (this doesn't include my writer/reader friends) and I have to make an effort, every time, to relate to the real world. My time is measured in deadlines. January and February are the months in which I'll finish a first draft of "Iron Cross", end of February is when I'll contact the publisher about the novel I sent off in late November. The time in between? Who cares, as long as I'm writing.
My year is deadlines, my weeks are measured in word counts (and what I read), my real life is what I do so I gather inspiration and new "people", I eat and sleep (often I feel that's lost time), and the greatest thing I can imagine is sitting in front of my computer and finishing more chapters than planned. I'm a workaholic, I look at people like a startled deer when they interrupt me in a creative moment, the creative "flow" is everything. My grave will likely bear the inscription: "Wasn't really in this world", and my decision on whether to change jobs is at east 50% decided by "Will it affect my writing time/schedule"?
It's a life and "career" (*cough*) built around the one, single compulsion. Writing. Everything's geared around making it possible, sustaining it, maximising output. People ask me how I write so much, and there are a couple answers: I type like a beast, I write all the time, I don't watch TV and have a limited social life. I'm driven, fanatic, and I like it that way. It's the one thing I want to do - always, for the rest of my life.
Now, a job forces me out of that insulation and experience "real life". For me, that's a good thing. If I know I only have one hour a day to write (say, lunch break), I get more done than if I have an indeterminate stretch of time before me. I get to watch people, the real kind, those who are actually born, and watch what life is like outside my own head. Still means I'll stare off into the distance, don't go to office parties and am difficult to find without a book, a notebook or some electronic gadget in my hand, and not having Internet or a computer drives me insane after a few hours.
Being forced to make concessions is certainly a good thing. I got novels and people from living "real life", so to speak. I now understand how the corporate world works, that's more stories. I see what my readers have to put up with, I can research "first hand". I'm actually more productive with a fulltime job than jobless (which depressed me no end), and while I sometimes think it would be nice to be a fulltime writer, I need that connection to "outside".
It works the other way round, too. As a writer, I'm fairly unaffected by the small dramas of job life. My real job is writing, after all. I don't have to care all that much what's going on in the real world, because I'm like an iceberg - most people only ever get to see those 10-15%, and that's plenty for them. I don't particularly care about what's going on there, I'm more observer than participant, which is a brilliant position. My life isn't about my job, so I'm not devastated if I don't get promoted or don't garner fame and fortune. In addition, the one thing I'm good at and care about is totally under my control, everything else is just about paying bills and having a roof over my head.
I think that's freedom.