Today’s guest blog post is brought to you by novelist, memoirist, poet, critic, editor, publisher and lecturer Jonathan P Taylor.
Managing A Writing Life by Jonathan P Taylor
On Saturday 29 March, I was invited to speak on a panel at The Writers’ Conference in Nottingham, run by Writing East Midlands, about ‘Managing a Writing Life.’ The other speakers were Lydia Towsey and Cathy Grindrod; the session was chaired by Jim Moran. We were asked to prepare answers to a series of possible questions. In the event, the panel was much more informal, spontaneous, chatty. But the questions we were asked were, I thought, intriguing as a framework, as a starting-point for thinking about the meaning of ‘the writing life’ to me and others – so I’ve written out my own notes in full here. As I say, these are just my own thoughts on the subjects raised, just one writer’s perspective; but hopefully they’re interesting and useful in that context. Thanks to Writing East Midlands for arranging the conference and the panel.
Maybe we could start with defining what ‘the writing life’ means to you?
Above all, it means to me the pleasure of actually writing, editing and shaping something that I enjoy myself, I am proud of. Publishing, teaching, anthologising, even performing – everything else has to be secondary to that actual pleasure of the writing itself. I enjoy writing now 100%, perhaps because it’s something I rarely have time for in its purest sense.
Explain what you personally think you are achieving in your writing life.
I think I’ve got to the point – and this will no doubt sound a bit big headed – of actually writing (stylistically speaking) quite well. So I know I’ve improved in the last twenty years – and just that is important in itself, a sense of getting somewhere. But there are still things I know I have to work on. I’m a bit of a jack-of-all-trades – that is, I write in lots of different genres – but that’s something I’m happy about, and wouldn’t like to change, even if it means that progress in any one genre is slower than it would otherwise be if I focussed entirely upon it, to the exclusion of everything else.
With regard to the current high-profile debate in The Guardian, is it really worth taking a creative writing course?
Yes: writing as a learnt activity. As I’ve said on other occasions, I don’t believe in talent or innate genius or prodigies. Writing is learnt through feedback, editing, audience, hard work, perseverance and no other way – and these are things which courses can (at their best) give you.
Discuss how you manage the finances. Does writing pay its way? Should we even expect writing to pay the bills?
Things have got worse over the last few years, given the degeneration of the net book agreement and copyright. Organisations like Amazon, Google, supermarkets, etc., basically want writers to work for nothing. Many people and organisations make money out of writing – why, of all people, not writers themselves? I don’t write what I write to make money – obviously! – and there’s no forcing a readership. So I don’t think writers should be angry at readers for not buying their works – but they have every reason for the distortion of readerships and the marketplace in general by big organisations.
If writing doesn’t pay the mortgage, what else should a writer be doing?