One of the greatest downsides of being an author is that you often end up trapped in awkward conversations with strangers. You’re at a house party, people ask you what you do, and you reply with those fateful words: “I’m a writer.”
The problem is, of course, that the man you’re talking to fancies himself to be quite the writer, and begins to talk as if you’re kindred spirits. For a moment you are fooled—you begin to chat about genres, preferences, writing styles—then you realise that you’re talking to a rainy day writer.
RAINY DAY WRITER
[rey-nee dey rahy-ter] noun
1. a person who is only able to write under particular pre-defined emotional, physical or meteorological conditions: Rainy day writers only write when it’s raining
Now, I am far from perfect. After having worked closely with a rainy day writer in my day job, I’ve come to realise that this impractical, indulgent view of writing rubs me the wrong way.
“But don’t you think,” this man told me, “that writing by hand has more meaning? Imagine using a stone tablet where you can’t cross things out. Every word you write will be there forever.”
“I’d have to make sure I write the right story the first time around or get severe hand cramps from rewriting,” I replied. “At the end of the day, writing is about telling a story. Whether I write by hand or using a laptop, the story I want to tell remains the same.”
He shook his head. “That’s only true if you think of all writing as a draft.”
I paused, flummoxed. Of course writing was a draft. Of course I would edit, shape, hone.
Later, when I told him about posting my rough drafts online, about scribbling Friday flashes out in ten minutes, about daily writing targets and writing when uninspired, he recoiled in horror. Apparently my short story from a sock’s point of view was not ‘a real story’ because it was about socks. And don’t get him started on my zombie love tales!
Needless to say, I chewed his ear off about people who think writing is some mystical, bohemian, artistic endeavour and sit around with leather-bound journals in coffee shops waiting for the rain and for inspiration. “A writer writes,” I told him. “If you don’t write, you’re not a writer.”
Now, a little hung over, I feel guilty for taking it out on him. I should have accepted that we were looking at writing from two very different perspectives and left it at that.
As I said in my guest post for The Inner Bean, for me writing is a business. As much as I enjoy the artistic, creative side, I have to be practical as well. I have to write every day, I have to set targets and treat it like a job because to me, it is a job.
So for someone to come along and tell me he would write if he had the luxury of time and the inclination, and that I am not being true to myself because I edit and incorporate reader suggestions and write for an audience rather than just for myself….
In the end I used the ultimate house party getaway technique: “I’ll be back in two minutes,” I told him, holding up a hand apologetically. “I just need to go find the bathroom.”
For all I know he’s still waiting there.
I used to be a Rainy Day Writer. There’s still quite the romantic draw to the idea: sitting in a moldy old turret thrust into the rain-soaked Parisian sky while I quietly succumb to a mysterious respiratory illness and spill great quantities of ink.
And there’s nothing wrong with Rainy Day Writing as long as it isn’t presumed to be for public consumption, and the author doesn’t get butthurt that nobody seems to be enjoying their self-indulgent wankery. And indeed, in that Parisian fantasy, the ink is little more than lube for the author’s very private act.
The genesis of the amateur RDW are authors who try to romanticize what they do to a ridiculous degree. I get enormous personal and professional satisfaction from telling stories. But I’ll never pretend that 95% of my writing is done anywhere besides a boring Thinkpad laptop sitting next to a red plastic slinky and a cosmetics catalog that my wife discarded onto my desk. Not exactly an under-oiled Underwood and a wooden chair that squeaks more than the emaciated rats in the walls.
This house does have some mildew, though, if that counts.
Don’t get me wrong — I love the romantic idea of writing, too. But it really rubs me the wrong way to have someone tell me my writing is meaningless, or somehow less good, because I don’t do it in some fancy arty way.
*shrugs* Apparently I’m a sell out and write commercial crap. Ah well….
“So for someone to come along and tell me he would write if he had the luxury of time and the inclination, and that I am not being true to myself because I edit and incorporate reader suggestions and write for an audience rather than just for myself…. ”
I would have rolled my eyes and wandered off. These people aren’t writers, they are hobbyists. It’s a completely different world. They can write indulgent clap-trap and nobody cares. Freeing, I guess, but ultimately pointless.
Oh, the Rainy Day writer… The “I can only write in a coffee shop while wearing a beret and drinking a mocha double frappuccino,” guy… I love the romantic side of being a creative as much as the next gal, but I also like to eat and put gas in my car every once in awhile. Great post!
Rainy day writers just write for themselves, I believe real writers need to treat it like a business if they want to do something seriously. Obviously he isn’t looking to get published. I understand waiting to be inspired, but when things come down to it, you just have to write regardless of whether you’re inspired or not. I don’t mind the rainy day writer, but I definitely want to hear how to do my job.
Wonderful post :)
I’ve got my own romantic idea of writing, but it actually involves the hard work too – spending long hours researching and writing (with a laptop, pen, typewriter, rock and chisel, whatever) and consequently going out in semi-clean t-shirts, dirty jeans and long coats because laundry is time-consuming, drinking too much coffee and too much alcohol, only eating meals that take less than ten minutes to make, never getting enough sleep, forgetting what it feels like to have free time.
I don’t know why I find this romantic; there must be something wrong with me. But I actually find your emphasis on hard, often unpleasant work inspiring. Thanks :)
Yes! I can agree completely. Right now, three months after deciding to tidy my room, I STILL haven’t tidied it. So now my desk is covered with a mishmash of objects and piles of clean clothes and pens and scraps of paper, so I have to huddle on my bed to write. Oops?
Ooh, yes – never tidying up definitely belongs on that list. Sometimes I want to go to work to write/blog/review just because my desk here is tidier than the one at home.
Sadly, if I try to do any of this on my bed I just fall asleep, usually under a blanket of clothes.
My trick is to write in the kitchen — I always keep the kitchen and bathroom tidy so they’re the two oases of calm in my house. Never tried writing in the bathroom though; it’d be a little odd!