When I Grow Up

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.

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16 comments

  1. I feel like this 99% of the time, that I’m a massive fraud who’s going to get found out, that what I do isn’t in any way “proper”… Let’s try and own our authori-ness!

  2. Reblogged this on Joanne Hall and commented:
    In which the lovely Lou Morgan reaches into my brain and pulls out a whole bunch of my own anxieties and writes them in a far more eloquent blog than I could manage….

  3. Reblogged this on Laura Lam and commented:
    A perfect blog from Lou Morgan on the term “writer” vs. “author,” the urge to undermine the work we do out of fear. Writing is hard work, but it’s easy to demure. I’m comfortable saying “I’m an author,” or “I’m a novelist,” but it took a long time. At the beginning, when I was working just as hard (hell, harder because I had more to balance), I stuck that sneaky word “aspiring” in front of everything. Yes, I was hoping to be published, but I was doing it all, even if the pieces hadn’t yet fallen into place. I prefer the term “prepublished” to “unpublished” for the same reason–it hasn’t happened yet, but that doesn’t mean it won’t.

    Great post, Lou.

  4. Reblogged this on Cookie Break and commented:
    A beautiful post I came across this morning, summarising perfectly what it feels like to be a writer! The insecurities, the fears, the “I love it so hard that it burns and sometimes I wonder whether it will consume me.” Perfectly said – I often wonder the same thing.

  5. Brilliant post, Lou. I have exactly those conversations at the school gate. Why do we do it? And is it just women who do it, or are men the same? (was interested to note that most of the comments above seem to be from women – hate to generalise but as a gender we do seem to do self-deprecation well, don’t we?)
    Loved “the fear that comes with knowing you’ve chiselled off a piece of yourself for people to judge” – oh, I hear that!
    Thank you.

  6. A few days ago, I submitted my first set of assignments (I study an MA in Creative Writing). At the library, my group of friends from the “major leagues”- data sciences, business analytics, supply chain management, etc. and I shared the working space. We were sure to have missed a dozen sunrises and sunsets, and all through that hard work, they asked me questions; questions I couldn’t answer right away- “Why are you still here? You just have to read a bunch of books and write something. Can’t you do that from home?”

    They couldn’t comprehend how artful what we do is. “Did one have to work so much for ARTS?” I knew I needed to defend myself, and I did, but somewhere inside, there was a turmoil. I felt small. I felt insignificant.

    Thanks a lot for sharing this, Lou; I really needed to read this 🙂

    1. I think we all feel like that sometimes. We shouldn’t, but we do. Good luck with the assignments; and remember, you’re doing something major league too! Humans need art. Food nourishes the body, but the arts nourish the mind, the heart and the soul. Keep going.

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