A (GREAT) DAY IN THE LIFE OF A WRITER – by Ellen Renner
Writing is not a glamourous job.
I’m sorry if I’m about to disillusion anyone although I expect you know this already. If you’re a writer, you’re certainly aware of a distinct lack of glamour in your day-to-day working life, particularly when the postlady needs something signing for and you find yourself opening the front door at two in the afternoon still in your pyjamas with sticky-up-bed-hair because you sat down to work with your breakfast cuppa and haven’t moved since, except to make more tea.
You see disillusionment grow in the postlady’s eyes as you sign for your proofs. She has realised just how unglamourous you – the writer – really are. Maybe she won’t bother to write that story she’s told you about: the one about the talking bathtub that can fly. Even though it would almost certainly be a best-seller and it surely can’t be that hard to write a kid’s book. She gives you a half-pitying, half-relieved smile and walks off into the real world.
You, meantime, shut the door, make a fresh cuppa and slummock back upstairs to the computer because that dratted scene STILL isn’t working. And you have a deadline. Well, you had one . . . three weeks ago.
Don’t get me wrong: there are moments. There are those school visits where the kids are amazing and you leave on a super-charged adrenaline high.
Once in a purple moon (rarer than blue) you’ll have a really successful festival appearance where you actually have more than five people in the audience, and the bookseller actually sells out of copies of your book.
Then there are the writers’ conferences where you meet friends, gossip and eat food you didn’t have to cook (and compare your glamourous lives).
Sometimes, in a school or library, you meet a reader who loves your characters and seems to know them better than you do. At that moment, you realise that your books have a life of their own and that your characters have touched a mind and a heart. These meetings are the best gifts we writers ever receive.
And of course, there is the terror and thrill of sighting of your newest book on the shelves of your local bookshop. Your child, out in the world. The sense of accomplishment is huge, but the joy is bitter-sweet. That book is done. Your story has gone into the world and has its own life. And now you have to find a new one. Strange people, writers.
So we writers do get out . . . once in a while. But most days we sit in front of a computer all day . . . writing. And we do it by ourselves, sailing uncharted waters alone and with only the stars of our imagination to steer by. And when the fog comes down and we – literally – loose the plot, it’s tough. Sometimes it’s hard to keep going.
Books are elusive things. You, the writer, are chasing a glimmer of an idea. A chimera. Something that may or may not exist. It is alchemy. You have to make something out of nothing. Pull form from the abyss. And it’s terrifying, because, even though you know you’ve done it before, you don’t always believe you still have the magic.
I have been rewriting the same book now for over a year. I love the idea; I love the characters. I can see the book that’s there: and it’s amazing. The first plot should have worked; it did and it didn’t. It wasn’t quite there. So I threw half the book away and tried a different plot; created some new characters. This time, the book was good. Just . . . not quite good enough.
Last week I had a GREAT day in the life of this writer. I met with my lovely editor, Kirsty Stansfield, Head of Fiction at Nosy Crow. Now, I’ve had a fair few editorial meetings. Most are helpful. A few not so much really. It depends on so many things; but mostly if you and the editor have the same vision. Last week’s meeting was the best editorial meeting I have ever had. We spent over two hours playing what-if tennis at dizzying speed. It was fun. It was creative. Best of all, because I trust this editor and have her total support, it was without pressure. And because both of us are stubborn, and in love with the idea and the characters, we finally had that break-through moment where you know you’ve sorted out the book.
This week I’m throwing away two-thirds of my second attempt at this book. I’m sacrificing two major characters I have given birth to, and whom I love. I’m deleting many scenes and chapters that work on their own and have magic to them. But that version of the book wasn’t right. The next one will be.
Yes, it is frustrating to lose a couple of strong characters and some good writing. But it will be worth it to make the book as good as it can be: not just ‘good enough’. I’ve created an entire world that never existed before, full of people who are alive to me, who dream and hope, and have adventures I can never have; who suffer losses I hope never to suffer; who survive and grow and become. I want to do them justice, so that they will live on in the minds and imaginations of readers I will never meet.
That is why I love writing. It’s why I can’t not do it. And why today I’ll be sitting down once more at the computer straight after breakfast, teapot and brain primed and ready. Today is a great day in the life of this writer.