Friday, 3 June 2011

The Fraud Squad - a post for occasional writers

A writer is someone who writes. Not someone who intends to write at some point soon when life is just that little less hectic.

True or not?

We are filled with directives that tell us Real Writers write. Daily! And any let up on this regime smacks of slack attitude. Faint-hearted fraudulence. 

Half the time, I don’t write. More days than most are spent teaching to earn a living then coming home to groundhog nights of domesticity and childcare - shopping for bigger uniforms as the kids sprung the last lot within a week. Overseeing piano practise, spelling tests, ferrying to and from clubs, helping at said clubs so kids aren’t kicked out of them, checking out secondary schools, rubbing sore tummies and administering Calpol, rushing to clean guinea pig cages, run Hoover across floors and scrub loos before tutorial groups arrive. Who has time to be a writer? Who has that luxury?

I’m not poor-me-ing. I want to be the one who strokes my children’s hot damp hair when they’re ill, or cuddles guinea pigs as they wheet-wheet their unintelligible secrets to me. And I love teaching.  I’d rather truant a writing day to take my sons to the South Bank and charge through a Miro exhibition declaring: ‘Brilliant! Brilliant! Rubbish!’ at breakneck 9-year-old speed then go mudlarking at low tide on the Thames to find Tudor pottery shards, than pack the kids off to a holiday club and sit at home totting up word counts.

But after weeks on the trot of hardcore domesticity, I feel unworthy and unskilled in the art of saying anything/having anything worth saying. I feel an utter fraud when eventually reintroduced to my dusty desk.  For years I thought that meant I wasn’t a proper writer. I didn’t take it seriously enough. Maybe so. There are more successful authors certainly, who choose to absent themselves from home life and domestic duties so they can get the words down. But I bet there are just as many writers who work piecemeal, as I do. Are we frauds for being part-timers? Is it useful to berate ourselves this way?

I’m coming round to thinking that the mark of a writer isn’t gauged by how often we write but by how seriously we apply ourselves when we do write.  Are we too quickly satisfied with a near-enough word, good-enough action, or do we strive for the exact gesture, comment, phrase? Do we allow our voices and ideas full expression or do we censor and abandon them easily when up against a block? 

The Fraud label discourages us from returning to our desks. It’s taken me some time to realise how unproductive it is. End of. I’m not saying, let’s all slack off and still call ourselves writers. Sometimes I write like a demon and the children go to school in ankleswingers with corner shop cakes for their packed lunches. (Fraud mother!) But where’s the joy or point in living like that full time? It’s just a rerouting of guilt from one role to the other. So I say, ditch all the guilt, enjoy whatever takes up our time but when we do sit down to write, waste not a moment on Fraud Squad excuses: ‘Oh I’m so rusty, I’ll never get back to it. If I were a real writer I’d…’

We do know what makes us buzz, what writing standards we keep, what qualities we aspire to and with them in mind we can take up where we left off.


Lindsay said...

Good post. It's relatively few writers who actually earn a living from writing, and even then full-time writing is not every hour of the week. Part time writers like myself are still serious about what we do, and we aim to do it well. Thanks for the words of support in this post.

Caroline Green said...

I loved this post. You're so's surely not about the number of minutes a day that we write, but the attitude we have towards it. And now important it is when we are able to do it.

Neil said...

Great post. I make a living (just) solely by writing, but as a single parent an awful lot of my time is not my own. To be honest though the intense concentration of writing means that I feel I've done a full days work after two hours. Although in a way you never stop - while walking to school, cooking dinner, doing the washing, the work is still carrying on somewhere in the back of your mind.

Susannah Rickards said...

Thanks for the replies. Neil, I recognise what you're describing. Two intensive, concentrated hours of writing, added to a steady stream of thought about the book during times of mundane physical work adds up to a fair day's work.

Geraldine Ryan said...


No one could never accuse you of not being a 'proper' writer!!!!!

Great post and I do so agree with what you say. Writing doesn't keep office hours. You can have a whole week, as I've done this week, not writing a word. But while I'm shopping, cleaning, cooking and cheering up the kids on study leave, the next story is always whispering in my ear. And when I do get round to sitting down to write it when the sun goes in next week, I know it will drop out onto the page.

Fionnuala said...

Hear hear!! That's all I have to say as I'm back at my fraudulent desk trying to apply myself!

Carys said...

It's really inspiring to hear that you have to squeeze your writing into the gaps between 'real life' events and tasks. It certainly hasn't had an impact on the quality of your work!

Debs Riccio said...

What Caroline (and Fi) said. I needed to hear this - lovely post.

Derek said...

Too true! Down time and thinking time and away time are just as important. We need to revisit the well regularly too!

Karen said...

Well said. It's quality not quantity that counts :o)