Cards on the table: I'm the world's worst procrastinator. Something in my genetic make-up seems to mean I'm a past master at not putting off till tomorrow anything I can put off until next week. Which is possibly why my weekly blog posts don't get finished until four in the afternoon when I've set aside the morning to do them. Though in my defence, I think I can honestly say I've never missed a deadline. A bus, yes; a train, definitely, and embarrassingly on at least one occasion. But deadlines... maybe just one. It was in the days before e-mail (yes, there were actually days without e-mail, in case you're under 40) and I was about to fly home from Guernsey, my favourite island; I had written a feature for the local paper, borrowed a typewriter to present it properly, and was carrying it in my hand luggage. The idea was that I would deliver it on my way home, well ahead of of the 5pm deadline – but then I found myself stranded in Guernsey's tiny airport because the island was wreathed in fog. I eventually made it home after the newspaper office had closed. I did manage to find a payphone (another historical artefact) to explain, and they were very understanding, and held the space until next morning – I like to think because I'd never done it before, unlike some of their freelance contributors.
But I'm digressing. Haven't done that for a while. OK, let's get to the point. Over the years I've encountered a lot – and I do mean a lot – of aspiring writers. I've taught college courses, run workshops, attended conventions and festivals, sat on panels. And that's before I even think about publishing books, editing other books, appraising work in progress, running competitions, judging other competitions...
And through it all, I've come to the conclusion that all those people can be divided roughly into two camps: people who want to be writers, and people who write. There are also people who attend courses, workshops and conventions as a hobby, but they regard themselves as members of the second group. So do a lot of the first group.
Now, I realize that drawing these distinctions is going to make me unpopular with a lot of people, and if I've caused offence, I'm sorry. But I have to tell it how I see it; that's the way I'm made. Because the way I see it is this: people who want to be writers think about it a lot, talk a lot about waiting for inspiration, and maybe dream a little about giving up their tedious day jobs as soon as the first six-figure advance lands in the bank account. But people who write write. They all have busy lives (don't we all?), but somehow the second group carve out the time to get the words on the page. A fellow workshop-and-course runner I met at the events used to ask his participants how much time they spent writing every day. If the answer came back, as it frequently did, I don't have time to write every day, his follow-up questions included how much TV do you watch? what time do you normally go to bed at night and get up in the morning? how much time do you spend travelling on public transport?
All valid questions, when you think about it a little. I know at least two writers, one of them not a million miles from this blog, at least when aggressive pharmaceuticals aren't making him fall asleep when he'd prefer not to, who produce three or four books a year. This remarkable achievement is, um, achieved, at least by one of these writers (I don't know how the other operates) simply by writing every day, come rain, shine or earthquake, and certainly not excepting public holidays. If you do the maths, you'll see it works: a thousand words a day, every day, is three hundred and sixty-five thousand words a year, which is four novel-sized books. But procrastination is absolutely not an option.
Neither are excuses not to write. Another digression, if I may. I ran an appraisal service years ago, when such things hardly existed. (Still do, if it's called for, but these days there's one on every corner, so people have choices.) One client signed up for regular assignments, and as was my practice, I gave her a deadline as motivation, and rehearsal for when editors asked for work by a specific time. Month after month her work failed to appear by the deadline – and month after month when it did appear a week late it was accompanied by a letter three times the length of the assignment, listing all the reasons she'd been unable to submit on time. Was it me, or was there a certain dissonance, or do I mean paradox, going on there?
Being a person who writes requires a level of commitment. Putting words on paper (or screen) comes ahead of that great TV drama or the weekly night on the town with the gang. Sometimes it even comes ahead of a good night's sleep. It certainly comes way ahead of waiting for the Muse to tap you (me?) on the shoulder and pour a paean of purple prose into your/my/his/her ears. After that first magic advance arrives and writing becomes the day job, publishers are going to expect at least book every year, and the advance is where the magic ends. Getting to that stage is even harder.
And you know what? I think it might be myself I'm talking to here. Top of my bucket list is get book published. OK, girl: let's see you go ahead and do it!