Husband and I were chatting yesterday (we’ve been together for twenty five years – you’d think we’d be over that kind of thing by now) on our way back from a rare couple’s lunch (In case you’re concerned we released our son on Dartmoor to run with the ponies so we could have some grown-up time, fear not. He was with a very responsible adult, watching suped-up cars speed round a racetrack – each to their own).
Husband and I were discussing how my life experience has prepared me to be a writer (well, a hopeful amateur writer anyway).
First off, there’s life experience. Unless you’re a true prodigy and understand the human condition from the moment you spring from the womb, most of us need to have had some dodgy jobs, some good jobs, travelled a bit and generally mixed with other human beings (loved, lost, loved and lost again – rinse and repeat) for a few decades before we feel qualified to write about life.
Secondly, I’ve had a very understanding and supportive partner. Someone who’s prepared to field a young child, go shopping, or just leave you in peace to write and who doesn’t become resentful and obstructive after years of doing so and STILL no sight of a giant publishing deal … Not to be underestimated.
The third biggest thing that’s prepared me to write was studying with the O.U. Allow me to explain.
As regulars will know, I’ve had an array of often-not-very-exciting-or-fulfilling-in-fact-kinda-eye-skeweringly-boring retail jobs over the years. These jobs left me stale, frustrated and unfulfilled. I had grown so used to floristry and all its doings, I could’ve made a wedding bouquet standing on my head. In fact, I suspect some brides over the years have thought I did make their bouquets standing on my head. Or maybe with my eyes shut. Anyway, I was fed up.
Then the dreams started. Well, pretty much the same dream, over and over, night after night, week after week.
I was late for an exam. I’d missed the bus to get to college. I hadn’t revised for another exam and I’d missed the bus and I was going to be late, and every permutation you can make from those elements. Now usually, I think reading dreams is an inherently bad idea as they’re just the brain’s way of digesting all the random codswollop we’ve absorbed during the day.
But this was different. My brain was telling me something – it was saying
‘Get off your backside and do something useful with me before I calcify or make you dress up as a fried egg and talk to sausages.’
So I did as my brain told me. I registered for a foundation course with the *Open University. I was terrified I wouldn’t cope, petrified of failure, but I completed the introductory exercises … And loved it. There followed six (mainly) enjoyable years of Art history, Roman history, and Renaissance history. I studied fossils, prehistoric technology, the English Civil War, more Art History and all while I was working full-time and part-time, giving birth (**well, I tried to get my text books out in the delivery room, but the midewife said it was unhygienic). I studied sleep deprived, while breastfeeding and over three house moves – writing essays and studying for exams early in the morning and late at night.
Studying taught me to grab any available minute. And it got me in the habit of ‘switching on’ in an instant, writing to order when and wherever I had to.
You see, it’s a habit, writing.
Your imagination is like a muscle. When you first begin to exercise it, it’s like a flabby abdominal, unused to being put under pressure – at first you might even have trouble isolating where it is. But with more practice – preferably daily practice – it will become taut, reliable … A thing of beauty.
It’s a strangled metaphor, but you know what I mean.
Once my brain was used to HAVING to work when I told it to, it was an easy switch from academic writing to creative writing. It didn’t mean I was any good at fiction at the start, but it did mean I wasn’t hanging around, waiting for the Muse to strike. I could summon her where and when I needed.
My advice, then is to be older, marry my husband and if you feel that you can only scribble when you’re in the right mood?
Write every day and that mood will become part of you.
How do you write? Daily? Weekly? Or only when there’s a full moon and the wind is in the East? What life experiences have prepared you to be a writer?
Let me know.
*As a very biased Open alumni, may I recommend my old alma mater? They provide long and short courses and quite a lot of free bits and pieces on a wide range of subjects. And they make a lot of good TV programmes too.
**This is, in fact untrue. Though, if a big essay had been due …