Let’s Be Clear, There Is Privilege Behind My Process

It’s early. My eyes hurt. I have to go to the day-job today, when all I really want is to stay home and tinker with the opening scenes of the novel in progress. Maybe write the ending to one of the hundreds of unfinished short-stories on my hard-drive, that are waiting for me to figure out the endings.

In short, welcome to cranky town. Population: me.

I have it pretty good.

There is a trend, among writers, to ignore the essential privilege of how they do what they do and how they came to do what they do as a semi-regular thing. This frequently means that readers will do the same, since they’re only seeing the process from the outside and filtering it through public statements.

And since most writers are also readers, we can get some bat-shit crazy assumptions about the job.

Case in point: a writer I know recently posted about his yearly word-count on Facebook. When someone pointed out it was rather a lot, my name came up as a comparison point on account of the fact that I wrote rather a lot myself this year.

And yes, it was a joke, but I found myself sitting there thinking no, please, god, don’t do thatMy writing life is not like your writing life. My process is not like yours, even if it looks that way on the outside.

For one thing, the writer in question had kicked ass on the writing front.

For another, there are all sorts of surface things that make a big difference, when it comes to getting shit done as a writer.

Some of it is small stuff, that you don’t necessarily consider.

Like the fact that I live alone, which means there’s no-one else tugging on my time. When I get up early to write in the mornings, there’s no interruptions for several hours at a time, let alone other people relying on my schedule. When I choose to write for an extra hour instead of having dinner, its no big deal at all. When I get home, there is no-one demanding conversation or watching something interesting on TV.

There is the fact that I work a day-job that is incredibly beneficial for a writer, both in terms of networking and in terms of understanding the kind of schedules that get kept when you’re on a project.

There is the fact that I work part-time, which means I have two working days every week to fit my writing into alongside the weekend. I have multiple friends in a similar situation, which means I can ramp up my productivity twice a week by heading to a write-club where I have no choice but to work.

These are not advantages most people get when they start out. Especially if they’ve already got a family or a career that they’re relying on to pay the bills.

I got it because I have pretty much arranged my life around writing since I was eighteen.

But it goes beyond that. ‘Cause, yes, I made a whole bunch of choices that led me to this situation after twenty-odd years of chasing this particular gig, but it’s not something I did on my own.

I’m the product of a white, middle-class family who are enormously supportive of what I do, and if you think that doesn’t make a difference, you are fucking dreaming.

For all that working part-time is a choice on my part – I’m willing to have less in order to write more – it’s also possible because I have a support network in the form of my family who are…well, far better with money and the work thing than I am.

The fact that I can maintain a mortgage? Family. They helped me come up with the deposit, invested a little extra to let me get the apartment I currently have. No bank was looking at my financial history and giving me a loan without that, and there are several points in the year where cash-flow gets tight and my parents will help me out with a loan.

This is not something every writer gets.

My day-job? Ultimately thanks to my family again. I worked at universities all through my twenties, teaching classes while studying for a PhD. That’s a gig that pays well when you’re doing it as a casual, but once again the cash-flow issue is a consideration, and once again I was able to maintain that with my family’s financial support and belief that all the study was worthwhile.

That experience got me my current gig, shaped my approach to work, and generally allowed me to become the kind of writer (and blogger) I am today.

When I started writing SF, I would go to Cons despite being unemployed. Partially this was funded by writing income, but just as much came from my parents supporting me and allowing me to go make the contacts I needed.

When I get a book published, my dad goes on an ordering spree (and generally needs to be restrained from ordering more).

When I do get a significant chunk of money from a writing gig, there are family members around who can advise me on smarter things to do with it than blowing it all comic books, a new pair of sneakers, and a Playstation 4.

The fact that I’ve been writing and publishing work, haphazardly as it is, since I was twenty is largely dependent on other people investing in that dream alongside me. Financially and emotionally.

Whenever you see a writer talking about their process, it’s easy to go straight to why can’t I do what they’re doing. But their process is not your process. Their background is not your background.

I am an extraordinarily privileged fucker and it’s worth taking that into account any time I open my mouth about writing. A lot of hard work went into the career I’ve carved out for myself, but not all of that work was mine.

I should totally go send my parents a thank-you card.

And you should totally be filtering any advice I give through that lens, just as you should be looking at the situation every other writer is in when they offer advice. We often adapt our process to our circumstances and forget how those circumstances shaped us.

  5 comments for “Let’s Be Clear, There Is Privilege Behind My Process

  1. 08/12/2015 at 9:12 AM

    I like this, and it would be good to see more of it. Not just “where I am now” but “how I got here” and “why what worked for me worked for me”. It makes advice so much more helpful when you have enough information to work out how to re-engineer it to fit your own circumstances.

    I joke around that to become an illustrator you need to go to law school, but that’s three-pronged: yes, it’s the roundabout path I took, and it spurred me on to pursue what I wanted to do or lose it altogether, but I’ve also been a full-time lawyer for over 10 years, with no dependents, illustrating and writing in the spare moments, and it’s the only reason I can afford to be less of a lawyer now. (And I had very little HECS debt, and AUSTUDY because of a very supportive government, and limited family financial help because, well, graziers and drought, but like you a very supportive family and just not having to fight is a huge privilege, and having friends-and-acquaintances who encourage and promote and further your work is massive, and…).

  2. 08/12/2015 at 9:29 AM

    This is a really important post. There’s a long history of burned degrees and jobs behind becoming a writer for me, and I managed to come through that without any debt due to family support, good financial management, and working my arse off at small jobs because I could. I used to be able to write when I wanted as much as I wanted, even though I’d sacrificed well-paying jobs to do it. I was sneaking through because occasionally I’d pick up a big tech writing contract and fill the coffers – that was made possible because of the afore mentioned degrees and jobs.

    BUT. Now with a baby, I get maybe an hour or two a day of very non-quality time. And I’m still working to book contracts. This is one of the reasons I want to break things when publishers are expecting me to be all light-up-the-boards on social media. I don’t like it for a start, and then I look at my time and say YOU WANT A BOOK OR YOU WANT SCREWING AROUND ON THE INTERNET – because I can only do one. And I choose the book. It’s the most horrible, soul-screwing way to write, but I do it because it is what I want and the opportunities are there now. I can, with careful management, do 10-12k a week. But that is all. Don’t ask me for anything else because I’m already at the wall. It is a fight, for now, but it’s also made possible because my other half goes out to work and has always been immensely supportive of my ambitions.

    • 08/12/2015 at 9:41 AM

      Charlotte, it gets better, it gets so much better! Hang in there.

      Writing when your children are tiny is so damned difficult, and you have to be ruthless at times. I was in the middle of a trilogy contract when I had my second, and it was such a struggle – getting the writing momentum felt impossible at times, and I really had problems with having to manage editing Book 2 AND writing Book 3 (one or the other with a baby felt possible, but both?)

      I’m at the other end of that journey now – youngest child is finishing her first year of full time school, and while the last 10 years have been a massive juggling act, they have also been productive in many ways. Apart from that one time my toddler punched my laptop, I seem to have emerged with a minimum of child-resentment at my writing time – if anything, it’s the other way around, they put up patiently with me typing all hours while they’re in the house, but are outraged when I do any work that means not being HERE. I have a casual 2-3 week job I do twice a year and every single time, have to explain it to my youngest daughter as if she’s never heard the concept before.

      It’s a fight for now, for that precious time, but the discipline you create for yourself during this baby time will be immensely helpful later on when time opens up again.

  3. 08/12/2015 at 9:35 AM

    I’m able to write as much as I do because I have a partner who pays the big bills, and always has, since I moved in with him at the age of 18. He supported me through university and postgrad, with me basically earning enough to cover my personal (though not living) expenses, and occasionally bringing in enough money from writing to cover a trip, or a car, or a piece of furniture.

    Having kids, and the enormous unpaid workload that this added to my life, was almost a relief in some ways, because it was my way to contribute to the household in a way I rarely have been able to, financially.

    (and hard though it has been to write while raising children, the privilege of never having had to hold down a fulltime job is one I never take for granted.)

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