I was watching an interview on YouTube a few days ago; an interview with an actor who is my age. There might be a year or so in his favour, but put it this way: we’d have been in close enough classes at school to have known each other.
He was – as many actors I know are wont to be – very serious about his work, his profession. His craft. Passionate about it, believing in it, expecting others to take it equally seriously.
A cog started to turn somewhere in my head.
Yesterday, my son’s drum tutor rolled out that phrase we tell children to make them keep going when they don’t want to. Success is 1% inspiration, 99% perspiration. Work hard. You want something? Be prepared to do what it takes to get it, to give what it takes. It won’t fall into your lap. Earn it. A cog clicked into another cog, starting that one turning too.
On Twitter, Joanne Harris talked about the difference between “author” and “writer”, saying that for a long time she felt uncomfortable calling herself an author – and I understood exactly what she meant. Authors are people who are serious about their work, their profession. Their craft. They are passionate about it, believing in it, expecting others to take it equally seriously.
A whole chain of cogs, spinning and spinning and spinning like they’re never going to stop.
“What do you do?” I get asked from time to time, often by parents at school.
“I’m a writer.”
“What do you write?”
And I make myself small.
I make myself insignificant.
I talk about how lucky I am. I talk about how it was always my dream, and how much I love it.
Because I am. And it was. And I do.
But I don’t talk about the other part of it. I don’t talk about the nights staring at the ceiling in wide-eyed terror while my husband sleeps: the small, dead hours when I wonder whether someone will find me out, will realise I’m making it all up as I go – when they will see that there’s no genius here, no gift. There’s just bloody-minded determination and will.
I don’t talk about the cold sweat of wondering what comes next. I don’t talk about the frustration of being able to see an idea, hold it glittering in my mind; perfect and whole and right… only to see it mangled by my own hand, crushed under the weight of letters and full-stops.
I don’t talk about the typing. The hours staring at a screen until I could cry. The hours typing until the pain in my arms actually does make me cry – the RSI a lingering leaving-present from a job I left long ago, and which no amount of physio or different chairs or keyboards or splints can shift.
I don’t talk about the fear that comes with knowing you’ve chiselled off a piece of yourself for people to judge.
I don’t talk about the number of times I’ve re-read my own words, wondering what on earth I was thinking when I wrote that… and then making it better, only to repeat the process a few weeks later. And again, and again until I’m sick of the words, sick of the world, sick of myself. Sick of thinking I could ever do this.
It is a craft. I’ve had to learn it – and I’ve had to learn it the hard way, in public.
No, it isn’t working down a mine or in a foundry. But it is work.
It is a profession. This is what I do. It’s the only thing, really, I know how to do. I’ve had other jobs, office jobs, non-office jobs, “proper” jobs. I hated them all. But this? This, I love. I love it so hard that it burns and sometimes I wonder whether it will consume me.
I wonder, sometimes, when I’ve spent all those hours staring at a screen and the words make no sense any more, whether it already has.
I don’t talk about the work.
I make myself small.
I make myself insignificant.
Do no harm, don’t get ideas above your station.
You aren’t an author, you’re just a writer.
Watching him on the screen in his suit… and there, just for a second. He moves his leg and you can see he’s wearing stripy socks. Those aren’t the socks of a serious, sensible man in his mid-thirties who has it all handled.
He’s just like me.
He doesn’t talk about the work, either.
That doesn’t mean it isn’t being done.
He is an actor.
And I suppose, with all my wildly spinning cogs, and my ninety-nine desperate percent, it’s time I was an author.