What I do all day when I’m writing

Ruth HartleyArt Process, Children's Stories, Feminism, Imagination, Mpapa Gallery, Poetry, Reading, Self-Publishing, The Love and Wisdom Crimes, The Shaping of Water, The Spiral-Bound Notebooks, The Tin Heart Gold Mine, The White and Black Blues, Visual Arts, Writing Process, ZambiaLeave a Comment

Some problems faced by writers

What are writers’ problems and what about yours? What do you all do when you’re writing? Please – do comment and tell me how you do things. If you’re a reader then you’re exactly what I need. Writers love readers. Readers, however, are often curious about the habits of writers. As both a writer and a reader I am, and so I decided that it was time for me to use both this blog and my Facebook Author page to talk about the process of my writing and tell you some of what I’m doing at the moment. I don’t have a set routine for writing, but I’ll tell you more about that later. First, consider some of the expectations that people have about writers and writing.

Other people’s expectations

Image shows a rose bush in bloom
The writer’s life is not a bed of roses.

As we’re social creatures we all have to meet the expectations of other people. I don’t know if all writers face similar expectations from friends and family, but I am pretty sure there will be some that we share.

I have a degree from art school, but when I was first married I wasn’t allowed to spend time painting. “Painting is a hobby – not work!” I was told. “Painting doesn’t bring in money and it isn’t childcare or cooking or sex.” It’s true. Money, food, children and sex are all important and what is painting for anyway? What is writing for anyway? Who and what do they serve? Eventually, I made up my own mind and ended up doing both art and writing. They’re important activities because they make us human. That was the first hurdle I had to clear. Next, I had to find that tiny space in my days to do that important something – doodling – scribbling -thinking – writing poetry secretly. These can be part-time pleasures but if you choose one as a career you’ll probably need a second job. There’s another truth. Writing is a selfish occupation and your family may resent the time you give to it. It can also occasion jealousy, envy of the skills it requires and of its perceived special status.

The five Rs – wRiting, aRt, Riches, Reputation and Readers

Few people get rich by writing or making art. Some people do end up with a reputation and sometimes their reputation is earned through their writing or their art. Quite often reputation-making is all you can find time to do. In the end, you forget about Riches and Reputation and you write or make art for yourself and hopefully for other people to see, read, hear and enjoy. That realisation is another important hurdle to overcome. This can take a long time because it’s complicated by the judgements we have to make about the quality and the worth of what we do and the fact that rent must still be paid and food put on the table among the pens and paint pots.

Most writers, artists and readers are women

Image shows a picnic meal spread out on a blue and white table cloth. There is bread, water, smoked trout, salad ingredients, cheese and wine
The life of a writer is not a picnic

How does this fact impact on you and me as writers?

If you are a woman you will have had a decreased chance of being rich and famous from your writing or your art.

If you are a man, it will be easier to concentrate on writing or art rather than doing the laundry or making the bed.

As a woman, you are less likely to be described as a genius than a man.

Yes – it’s another of those things – it seems that geniuses are male. Now I don’t believe I’ve ever met a genius and I’m not convinced that many people, dead or alive, deserve to be described as geniuses. I know I’m not one and it does help to realise that as a writer you aren’t competing with geniuses but with craftspeople. Writing is hard work, commitment, good editing and learning to think critically about your work. So fellow writers, here we are. No riches, reputation, or divine gifts – it’s all just very hard work.

My own writing at this moment

Image shows a striped hammock in which are all 5 of Ruth's published books with pens and notebooks.
All of Ruth’s published books

I’m in between a number of projects right now. I have just put together an anthology of short stories that I’m self-publishing. I’ve had editing help and advice from John Corley, Maggie Hablous, and Geoff Dupuy-Holder with it. I’ve selected the stories because they are linked by place and content and I’m almost sure about the title – When I Was Young. What do you think of that? Many of these stories were entered for competitions but didn’t win. There are always 100s of entries for any competition and very few winners, so I’m no longer discouraged by not winning. Competitions simply help me focus and they can be fun to do. I did write a short story for another competition a month ago but felt it wasn’t good enough – I will rewrite it as soon as I have time. I’ve been reworking a poem that I might include with the short stories and another that is about the way Covid-19 has confined us all, which is new.

My plan is to clear my desk for my new book. I’ve started on it and I’ve been gathering ideas for years now. I need to get going before any more world events change my perspective on it again. So far this year I’ve had a launch of my first book, The Shaping of Water in Lusaka, Zambia – it’s 60 years since the Queen Mother opened Kariba Dam which is the setting for the novel. I’ve helped with the editing of the first novel by a young Zambian writer, and I’ve researched the history of Mpapa Gallery in Lusaka where I worked for 10 years. It’s been a busy but bitty writing time for me and there is still income tax to do and French to learn. Since January 2020 I’ve written 10 blog posts – they add up to 10 full days of concentrated writing and editing work. This week something rather good happened – I’ve been told that my children’s book – The Drought Witch is being considered for publication! I am thrilled!

The hammock in the photo above is where I read if I can find the time. – it’s not where I write, but those are all my published books relaxing on it with some of my notebooks.

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