I’m becoming obsessed by this theme right now. I wake in the early dawn and try to figure it out: what is the best way to live if you have an all-consuming talent? I am not content with the traditional models of ‘selfish genius’ which dictate that in order to follow your inner voice you have to ignore everything – and more crucially everyone – else. This is what male writers have traditionally done; and recently women are going there too: there’s a whole plethora of articles exhorting women writers to be selfish, to put themselves first, to ignore the children and carve out writing time.
Now, this needs a little deconstruction in the context of households where women have traditionally put themselves last. We were conditioned to ignore our own needs, or at best put them on the back burner. When everyone else’s needs have been satisfied, then it’s your turn. Trouble is, that turn never arrives; you catch your breath for a moment before realising, like poor old Barbara in The Royle Family, that having cooked, served and eaten Christmas dinner you are now faced with a kitchen full of washing-up. I have to admit when I watched this episode I had an overwhelming urge to kick Jim out of his chair and into some good quality rubber gloves (sorry a bit of Withnail got in there by mistake) (oh no, another bit!)
Deep breath. So, in that context yes, it is entirely in order that Barbara should boot Jim into the kitchen to do his bit while she goes upstairs to write something sensational. However it’s not only in the carving out of time that the selfish genius rears its head. Write what you know is the advice – and it’s good advice – the trouble is that you also end up writing who you know. Literary history is littered with friends of the writer who have recognised themselves in print and decided that since the passages can’t be deleted, they’ll delete the friendship instead. This is not to mention the wives, ex-wives, lovers and partners of authors who can find themselves writ large in two hundred sizzling pages. Not unnaturally, these people feel betrayed.
And of course the third thing that writers always do is steal.
So here’s the thing: how does one become a great writer without being a total sh*t?
That’s not a rhetorical question. I actually want to know.
PS: what do you think of the title? It came to me in the night and I thought it was pure ge…