Is Writing Selfish?

Hmm, well ask my seven year old this question right now and he will probably tell you that it is. I am certainly feeling the guilt for spending so much of my time on something that only really benefits me. When I was a kid it was so much easier! School, home, write. Weekends, just write. I lived in my own carefully constructed little world of characters and stories. I lived and breathed my stories and my characters. I raced home to be with them. I stayed up late at night banging away on my word processor. I took a notepad and pen everywhere I went. My head was full of it constantly. My mum would roll her eyes at me and tell me to get my head out of the clouds. Daydreamer, they called me. In a dream. Away with the fairies. Yep, and I loved it. But I only had myself to please.

Then came the years I let the writing slip. University followed by employment followed by children and more employment. There was just never the time. Every now and then I would grab a notebook and pen and curl up in a chair with them. Every now and then I would re-read something I had written in my younger days. People used to ask me; did you ever do anything with your writing? Do you still write? What happened about all your writing? God it was depressing. Every time I heard a question like that I felt like another little piece of my true self had been chipped away. Noel Gallagher once said ‘while we’re living, the dreams we had as children fade away’, and he couldn’t have been more right. This is exactly what happens if we are not careful. Life just simply gets in the way. There is pressure everywhere you turn. Pressure to fit in, pressure to make money, pressure to have a career, to contribute to your family and society in general. There is no time in all this to pay attention to passions that are yours and yours only.

When I was a kid my teachers loved my writing, but I was too afraid to show it to anyone else. I had no idea whether it was good or not. When people asked me what I wanted to do when I grew up I always said be a writer. People often laughed at this. My dad in particular said there was no money in this, and you needed to make money in life. I needed a plan b.

It has taken me a long time to conquer the fear I had of sharing my work. Four books published and two blogs on the go, and I no longer have this fear. Like it or don’t like it, either is fine by me. I know why I write and I have blogged about this before. I write because I have to, because it is who I am, and I have finally clawed this back after years of letting it go. I won’t ever let it go again. I am happier than I have ever been. I feel like I am living my dream. I am me again.

However, this new found obsession with writing brings its own problems, and the main one is guilt. Writing can make you money, and I am slowly and painfully learning how to make this happen, but the chances are you are never going to be rich. So there is guilt about this all of the time. I could do other things and earn more money. I could throw all this energy and time into work that pays! But I would lose myself completely.

Then there is the parental guilt. I guess all parents feel this to some degree at least some of the time. Especially mothers. If you don’t go out to work, you feel guilty for not contributing. If you do go out to work, you feel guilty if that means leaving your children. If you are self-employed things are not really any easier. You have to find a way to concentrate within the home, throw yourself into work while washing sits in the basket, and dinners need to be made. It is almost impossible to find peace and quiet in my house. It does not exist. I am writing this now while Doctor Who blares from the TV behind me, a remote control car is zooming around the room, and the dog has just opened the door and run upstairs with a bone he has dug up. Not to mention the 12 year old stood right beside me playing with my phone whilst asking me how she can become an extra in Sherlock. Arghhhh!

Inevitably I get stressed out, I get snappy, Christ, I just want to get things done! I’ve got this bloody to-do list you see! And if they make much more noise they are going to wake the baby up and then….well.

In the day, it goes like this. Up at six am, with writing on the brain. No lie. It is there all ready to go, fizzing and crackling, winding me up, already setting off a certain panic that I will not find the time. Sort the baby and the animals out, then get the other kids up. All out of the house by 8am. Back home after 9am and walk the dogs. If I am lucky laptop is on by 10am, but then I automatically feel a surge of horrible guilt for neglecting the last baby I will ever have…I do what I can before he needs changing and feeding again; usually emails, some simple promo stuff like Facebook and Twitter, links to my books etc, maybe a few other things from my promo list if I can. The rest of the day is basically taking care of the little man. Another dog walk, and kids home from school. Dinner, baths, lunch boxes, bed. The trouble is now the other kids are older they don’t go to bed as early as they used to. I have to grab whatever there is of the evening before the little one wakes up.

So when my seven year old lingers around the laptop, leaning all over me, chattering away about Doctor Who, asking me for snacks, I have to finally turn and say to him; mummy is working. The look of confusion on his face was highly amusing. No you’re not, he said in reply, that’s not working. So I had to explain to him that actually it is. That mummy writes books that make a little bit of money, and that mummy also gets paid if she writes articles about writing books! Hmm, he said, still confused, that’s not work.

Well, fair enough. How can you explain it to a seven year old? I had better luck with my twelve year old when we were looking for a new coat for her on ebay earlier. When she hit confirm on the paypal button I told her that all the money in the paypal account has come from my writing. My writing bought her coat. She looked at me and frowned. Really? She sounded as surprised as my son earlier.

The thing about writing though, is that it is with you all the time. I find it really, really hard to switch off. Even when I am making the dinner, or hanging out the washing, my thoughts are on my characters and my plots. Sometimes when my kids are talking to me, I drift off, totally unable to hear what they are saying. Just like when I was a kid, my head is off in the clouds. God I feel guilty. They know when I am doing it as well. Oh yes, they know.

Sometimes we will be on a family day out, or enjoying a pub meal, and again I feel myself drifting off. I am thinking about a new promo site I found earlier, or I am listening to my characters converse in my head. I want to grab a pen and write it all down before I forget. But then I feel them all looking at me….

Well you know you can’t win. Whatever you do. Writing is selfish. I know it. I can’t justify it. It is never going to make us rich or famous. I do it because I want to and I have to, because it is my dream, because it makes me who I am, because it makes me feel happy. It is pretty much benefiting me and only me. It takes me away from my kids, and makes me rush them into their beds. How awful. I sometimes tap away at the keyboard with the baby on my lap, trying to write while he tries to hit the keys. I have a constant gnawing terror that one day when they are all grown up, my kids will turn to me and say their main memories of me are me sat at the laptop, tapping away…

So there it is. Writing is selfish and so I am. I have to try to strike a balance. I have to try not to let one important thing slip. My writing means the world to me, but my children are only children once. I hope it might teach them a thing or two that is just as important as spending time with them. I hope it teaches them that living your dream is not simply a dream. That actually you can do whatever the hell you want in life, write, paint, draw, teach, sew, knit, grow things, whatever makes you happy, and if you are strong enough and work hard enough you can also make a living out of it. I hope it teaches them to follow their dreams and stoke the fires of their passions rather than let them peter out. I want to tell them that they do not need a Plan b, or a better paid career. I want to tell them they can do whatever the hell they like and just be happy.

And I also just promised my seven year old I will definitely, definitely play Doctor Who figures with him on Saturday…

3 thoughts on “Is Writing Selfish?

  1. Writing isn’t selfish. It’s a passion and it’s who you are. How can that be wrong? I totally hear you, though. Even my dogs hang their heads when they see my attention on the computer and not on them. It’s finding that perfect balance that is oh so hard!


  2. Finding the balnace is key – agreed. I like how you connected the dots for the kids, explaining that writing bought the coat. Thank you for saying what I have been feeling!


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