Last week I found myself in the rare position of not having anything to do.

Okay, that’s not quite right, I still had two small children to look after and a job to go to, but I mean no writing to be done and my agenting duties currently on hold. I have just finished my work on my client callum’s next novel, The Geek Manifesto and now I must wait to hear back from my team of unpaid editors and proof-readers. This means there will of course be more work to be done on it, but until I get a  response, there is nothing to do.

It’s an odd feeling.

In the normal course of things, when I’m writing a new book or preparing a completed one for publication, I am in a perpetual state of low-level anxiety, constantly thinking that I should be getting on with it. But now… nada de nada.

I actually went to a cafe the other day (this one, which I am totally digging at the moment mainly due to their really good coffee. Although the last couple of times I’ve tried to go there, they’ve been full! You know what? Crouch End needs more good cofffebars.) and just sat and read a book. Now I spend a lot of time in cafes, but it’s pretty much always to write. I get a coffee, I open my laptop and I barely look up until I have to leave, or as is frequently the case, I am asked to leave¹. This time though, I just read a book. I used to do this all the time before parenthood saw my free time taken up with cooking pasta, wiping bottoms and playing ‘blind pillow whack’² (although I won’t be doing all three activities at the same time again – man, that ended up in a mess!).

The book I read was Bird by Bird, written by American novelist and creative writing prof, Anne Lamott. The book gives her thoughts on being a writer and the process of writing and gives all manner of funny, though-provoking and practical advice on this life we choose, and which has inspired this post on why I write. She quotes a number of great writers who answer the eternal question “Why do you write?” with pithy replies such as ” Because I have to“, “Because I’m good at it”, “Because I can“, and so on.

For myself, I can’t imagine not writing, and of course like all writers I would love a big advance, a deal with a mainstream publisher and some critical acclaim. For many writers, these are the goals, the marks of success. Anne Lamott says otherwise. Okay, she actually is a successful published writer, she can say that, but it crystallised a feeling I’ve had for a while now. In the end it won’t really matter to me if I ever achieve those goals. Okay, I’m not gonna turn them down if they come along, but I don’t think it will matter one way or the other. And in some ways, the burden that would come with it might make the whole thing seem too much like actual work.

What I’ve come to realise and to be thankful for, as a non-professional, barely-published, part timer, is that I can write, but I don’t have to. On days when I don’t want to write anything, I don’t. And no-one’s going to give a  flying fuck. No-one’s waiting for anything from me. At least not anything I write. Maybe just some pasta, or to be hit on the head with a pillow.

So I haven’t made a fortune, or won a prize or got to hang out with Jon Franzen, but that’s okay. I write because I want to do it.

Most of the time anyways.

¹This would be because the cafe is closing, not because I have done something of the nature that would see one ejected from a cafe.

²Not a complicated game and requiring little more explanation that it’s name suggests but rarely played without something being damaged or tears being shed. V. popular with my two children.


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