The Downside of Being a Writer

There are two things I dislike about being a writer.

The first is that I enjoy reading less. The second is that I don’t have much time to read anyway. And that’s tough for someone who started reading so young she can’t remember how she learned.

Some of my fondest childhood memories are of reading. The joy of snuggling up in front of the fire on a cold winter’s night in one of those soft and lumpy armchairs with a book I hadn’t read. Waking up on a hot Christmas morning, the sun already heating up the unlined zinc roof overhead, knowing that there would be a new book in my stocking, (bestowed by wise parents who didn’t want kids waking them up too early).

Reading everything a zillion times because there were never enough books. Loving it when I was nine and new neighbours moved in on a farm half a mile or so away with a library of books that they didn’t mind lending. Loving it when I was ten and my sister started university and began bringing home all those lovely, lovely books by people I’d never heard of with wonderfully exotic Russian and French and Jewish and German names…

There was no T.V., of course, and we lived in a household that “went to the flicks” much less often than we visited the dentist. The only library was at school, and books were rationed like wartime coffee. We were allowed to change a single book once a week. (Perhaps it was reverse psychology on the teachers’ part – to inculcate a love of reading by making it an almost forbidden treat? If so, it worked. Reading was a wonder, a joy, and a new book was indeed something delicious to be savoured. Of course, being kids, we bookworms got around the rationing. We each took out one book, read it and passed it on.)

Now, however, whenever I read for pleasure, there is almost always part of me that is observing the tools used by the author. The plot devices. The dialogue tricks. The way they have built characters or shifted a scene, or foreshadowed an event. I note the clumsy phrase and think to myself, “Well I would have done that another way…”

It’s a pain. I want to get lost in a good book the way I did as a child. I want that sense of immersion, of being somewhere else, of being someone else. And very, very occasionally it does happen. There comes along a writer who whisks me away from this world with such a deft touch, not just for a page or two, but for a whole book. And I’ll read anything they write, any time. And I think, Ah, if only I could write like that…

The second downside to being a published writer are those things called deadlines. Terry Pratchett might get a kick out of the sound of them whooshing past, but all they stir up in me is a sense of guilt whenever I sit down to read. I feel like that same little girl who used to read under the bedcovers with a torch, long past her bedtime, devouring the Myths of Greece and Rome, or one of Enid Blyton’s Famous Five books, or The Complete Plays of George Bernard Shaw – probably all in the same week. I didn’t discriminate back in those days. I just read.


The Downside of Being a Writer — 11 Comments

  1. I know exactly what you mean. For me, the decrease in my reading is a combination of now writing, and fallout of having had the bookshop. I read so much during those years, literally thousands of books, that I think I did burnout. Not what I expected! And now of course, with a very few exceptions, my reading is clouded by analysis/criticism of the story in hand.

    I think that’s one reason why I tend to relax with more tv drama now than read when I want to be entertained. It’s still stories, but it’s a different medium and it uses my brain/eyes differently so it’s not so much hard work.

    I guess it’s a trade off, really. When you start doing something professionally that once was purely pleasure, you do lose … innocence? It changes. I think it’s worth it, still, because there are still authors I can read that leave the Inner Editor snoozing.

    But I know what you mean about the deadlines!!!! Hard to shake the guilt to amuse yourself when that date is looming.

    And speaking of which … I have to get to work!!!


  2. Try doing book reviews, and then get onto a jury for an award, and all of a sudden you have a reading pile THIS big, and you have a copy edit to go through and a new book to write and a tax bill has just wiped out your bank account to all intents and purposes…

    Sometimes I wonder WHY I thought this was such a glam job (but then I remember that I wouldn’t trade it… if only I could figure out this tax catastrophe…)

  3. Um.. that quote :

    “I love deadlines. I love the sound of them whooshing past.”

    is usually attributed to Douglas Adams 🙂

  4. Is it? Aargh. Memory playing up again. And geez, I’m not even senile yet. What am I going to be like then?

    Anghara – this is supposed to be a glam job?

  5. “The first is that I enjoy reading less.”

    That’s true isn’t it ? You start editing the book, and you can see all the tricks in it. It’s like a magician not enjoying a magic show.

    Yeah, this is supposed to be a glam job. I’ll try to remember that the next time lighting blows the modem, and I’m wondering where I’ll get the money to replace it from.

  6. I won’t even make it past page one if there’s a silly mistake in it. It just ruins the image.. it’s like you want to correct it but you can’t. It’s like eating something really tasty, and then tasting something you shouldn’t have. You’re like, ew, what was that ? and then you don’t want to eat any more.

  7. Editing has to be a glam job though. Imagine reading for a living. And being on a jury (Simon Cowell eat your heat out) and being _paid_ to correct someone else’s mistakes. Wow.

  8. I still have no TV. And no radio. And not much of anything else actually. I still live for the most part on Roti Canai and Teh Tarik (Malaysian soul food.)

  9. Exactly anonymous. There are still authors, thank god, but they’re few and far between.

    Yes, you and me both.

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