In my previous article on the subject I referred to the awkwardness that always descended upon me in the past when asked what job I did (for those not familiar with it, I was a civil servant). But that is nothing to the reaction I now get when informing people that I am a writer (there I said it).
Nine months later, I have got beyond saying I am unemployed – in fact I don’t think I’ve ever said that (such a snob), though, technically, it could be argued that, as I am below pensionable age, that might be true. But as I do have a source of income (my occupational pension), I tend to fall back on the word “retired”. Even then, house husband (to my wife – obviously) and part time carer (to my father) reflect more what I actually do with that (important) part of my time when I’m not writing.
What I want to declare every time, and with feeling, is that I am “a writer”. When I do manage to blurt it out it is usually only after I have already said “retired” – my vanity prompting me to provoke envious or admiring noises. I suspect that I will only feel confident enough to rely upon “writer” if and when I manage to make any money from my work.
But it’s not only myself who struggles with the word, however strongly I feel that it defines what I now am and do. People don’t know what to say beyond “what have you written” (as if they’re likely to have heard about, let alone read, your piece – had you published anything in the first place). Many will profess to be impressed and claim that they too “have a book in them” or “have always wanted to write”. But they have no understanding of what it means to be a writer, to look at and think about the world through a writer’s mind (to be fair, that is something I too continue to try to come to terms with).
In fact, the declaration intimidates, and immediately labels you as odd (“different” might be a more charitable word), or – worse still – an intellectual (an accusation my underdeveloped capacity for reasoned thought disqualifies me from pleading guilty to). Even writing notes for this piece on a train into London earnt me suspicious glances from other passengers. How peculiar of me not to be burying my face in my mobile phone and exercising my thumb muscles!
When I meet friends they will talk about anything but what I’m doing with my time. Whole weekends in their company may pass without even a question as to “how are you getting on” or “what have you been up to lately”, let alone “what are you writing at the moment” or “I liked that piece you wrote about the cricket last week”. The idea that I could spend a lot of time writing, or not even writing, but planning and thinking about it, is incomprehensible. It’s not a serious pursuit and one that does not pay (yet).
It was difficult enough in the period after I left work, when I was working towards my travel and tourism qualification, when I would have to raise the subject myself in conversation. But at least that was a tangible product, enabling friends to ask “have you completed any more of your assignments” or “what grade did you get for the assignment on preparations for the 2012 Olympics”?
I’ve always regarded myself as a bit of an outsider – comes, I suppose, in part, from being an only child. Whilst I had friends, they tended to be no more than one or two at a time, and I never had the need, or indeed desire, to join groups (other than sporting teams – Sunday school and the cubs were my parents’ idea). So I learnt to be comfortable in my own company (crucial for a writer), whilst not repudiating my Libran credentials for sociability. In engaging with others though, both in the personal and work spheres, I’ll confess that it has invariably been on my own terms, whereby I have tended to “take charge”, to be the one to plan and organise activities.
And now that my sole ambition is to write, and with the aim of translating what modest talent I have for it into hard cash, the often embarrassed silence that passes even amongst close friends, aggravated by my own hesitancy on the matter, is magnified. The answer, you might say, is to get on with, and stop pontificating about, it – and you’re right, of course, though be assured this public self-analysis does help me to understand what I’m trying to achieve.
I should not want anyone of my acquiantance to take offence at the foregoing. It is rather a statement of fact, and a consequence of who and what I am, and something that I must work through myself. And, hey, perhaps we”ll speak of nothing else in future!