Things that get in the way

I’ll say this for working at a school: the holidays are well-earned.

It’s quite popular these days to bash teachers and teaching staff for the amount of time they get off, but believe me: they deserve it. Imagine trying to do your job (whatever you do), with all of its paperwork, admin, on-line and off-line tasks, meetings, demands and requirements — but instead of being left in peace (or disturbed by the occasional adult presence) you’re interrupted every two minutes by a tearful / bemused / angry teenager who believes they are the only one on the face of the planet who is entitled to your time. And they need you right now, or the world will most probably end.

Then you realise that, in fact, you’re only allowed to be in your office for three hours a week (not counting lunch and breaks, amounting to an hour and ten minutes every day), unless you decide to stay late or come in early — and even then, nine times out of ten you will still be disturbed by the hormonally unbalanced adolescents because they are in detention / need help with homework / need help with bullies / are so far behind on their coursework that the finish line is a dot on the horizon.

Oh, and they’re deaf.

So, that’s my life now. When I was updating this blog on a regular basis, about a year and a half ago, I was working as an agency / freelance interpreter, and I had regular three hour breaks in the middle of the day that were mine to fill as I saw fit. So I wrote my books.

Now I have no time. None. Unless you count the holidays, which I spend with my pregnant wife and three-year-old daughter. Right now my daughter is holding a running conversation with me about what things in the room are (“Is this a ticket?” “Is this a star?”). Oh, and she’s singing ‘Happy Birthday’ and trying to give me presents.

Sorry, this is turning into a bit of a whine. Let’s move on to the good news.

Last week was World Book Day, and I was invited as ‘resident author’ of the school to deliver a reading of my latest book, ‘Emberlight’, to any students who might care to come, followed by a Q&A. To my surprise and gratification the library space I had been assigned quickly filled up — not just with students, but staff as well. They all listened intently as I read, and by the end of the session the room was full to capacity and then some.

The questions they asked were excellent, mostly along the lines of ‘how hard is it to be an author’ and ‘where do you get your ideas from’, but with some real zingers thrown in about the dedication required to commit to writing as a career choice.

Following the reading event I was approached by several members of staff wanting to know where they could get their hands on the books — and so I have had a pretty profitable week of sales around the school. I was even spoken to by one of the Heads of Year hinting about the possibility of placing a big order so they could get the books into classrooms (the thinking being that if the students know the person who wrote the book they are more likely to read it).

This has pushed me to re-release my first two books on Kindle, after realising that, yes, people really do want to read my books. (Shameless plug: the first can be found here and the second here.)

Which brings me on to my third and final point: why do I write? This is a question that comes up time and again on blogs and sites all over the internet, and this is my turn to pose it.

Firstly, I write because I love to. I am one of those people who derives incredible satisfaction from a well-turned phrase or an elegantly plotted story, more so if I am the person who has turned or plotted the phrase or tale in question. Writing for me is a form of catharsis, a way of pouring out stress and anxiety. The worlds I create are places where no demands are placed upon me, and I am in ultimate control.

Secondly, I write in the hope of personal gain. Never more has this been evident than now. Looking back over the past year and a half, I have written perhaps ten to twenty pages of various different stories, but I have been unable to commit myself fully to any of them. Family and work pressures have come between me and my writing, and I have been compelled to put it aside for a time.

The thing that has enabled me to pick it up again is the promise of money. This is it, pure and simple. People have been buying my books, and so I have seen the possibility of being able to carry on writing and actually get something from it other than personal satisfaction.

It is my belief that, for me, personal satisfaction alone will never be enough to encourage me to write other than in stunted drips and drabs. Giving up time with my family, or putting off work tasks, simply to enjoy myself — well, this just feels selfish. But if there is the promise of profiting from it in a tangible fashion, this is an entirely different story.

Many of the authors I have interacted with on WordPress and other sites have been young people in their early twenties with few earthly ties or responsibilities. Invariably, when someone posts apologising for or complaining of their lack of output, it comes down to pressures of family, work or study.

I remember writing my way through my GCSEs and A-Levels (high school and college, US readers?), to the detriment of my studies. I remember being utterly consumed with stories that never made it into the public arena, and which have now (mercifully) been lost to posterity. But as soon as I got married and started a family, there were always a thousand and one reasons why I could not write — and legitimate reasons, at that.

So here is my question: why do you write? Is it purely for the satisfaction? Is it for therapy? Is it because you feel you ‘have to’? Those with families and full-time jobs — how do you manage? How do you deal with any guilt that may arise when you sit down at that keyboard / notepad / iPad in the evening / morning, knowing full well that there is washing to be done, skirting boards to be fixed, children to be played with, accounts to be set in order?

Thanks to all my wonderful readers for reading, and kudos to you writers for continuing to write. Let me know what you think in the comments below.

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