So tomorrow I return to getting paid to do something other than write. About twenty months ago I ignored the one piece of writing advice all the professionals seem to agree on and quit my day job.
The plan was that I would write a novel and get it published and that nearly two years would be more than enough time to do that. I still haven’t finished the novel. I’ve abandoned two and am now working on the third. I have high hopes for this one.
It has been an amazing time. I am so much a better writer for it. When I left my day job I had a first draft of a novel I’d written during NaNoWriMo. I thought I would rewrite it and turn into something good. I spent weeks reading through it, marking it with a red pen, until I realised two things:
1. I didn’t know what the hell I was doing when it came to rewriting.
2. There was something fundamentally wrong with the story but I didn’t know what that was.
I decided to focus for a while on short stories to learn about rewriting in small chunks. That went well. I had a story in my head that needed to be told and Pantechnicon liked it enough to publish it – Innocent. I had a go at writing articles and found I didn’t like it so much and for a couple of months got paid for blogging.
Then I started on a second novel, working from an idea I’d had years ago. This time I had piles of character sheets, timelines, outlines, research and even a map. It was loosely based on a real period of European history and so I was able to get lost in the research. The writing wasn’t coming easily at all. And in the back of my head I wondered if there was the same fundamental flaw in this story as there had been in the previous one.
Last summer I took a part time job and switched to working on another short story. The second novel wasn’t going anywhere and I’d reached the point where I needed some success. I returned to the strategy that had worked before. This story never seemed to be done; it just grew and grew. The part time job ended in September and for three months I worked flat out on what was now my third attempt at a novel.
Then something unexpected happened. I stumbled across a feminist critique of one of my favourite TV shows and it shook the way I’d been thinking about things. After a few weeks of re-educating myself on matters of prejudice and privilege I realised what had been wrong with my previous two novels. They portrayed relationships and characters that entirely reinforced the status quo and I had been under such a false consciousness that I’d failed to see it. It was also true of the third novel but in this case was fixable. This novel will get finished and I will be happy with the result, but I may sweat blood doing it.
Of course, I have also read and critiqued and studied writing. I’ve learnt what my process is and I’ve learned to view my own work more objectively. The last few months have been mostly dedicated to job hunting and now I’m returning to work. I’m happy about that – I like to pay the mortgage and have nice things – and I’m looking forward to it. But I would absolutely quit my day job all over again. Just as soon as I find a big pile of money.