Monday, May 30, 2016

Not writing for money

Trained as a journalist in my early 20s, I've always expected to be paid for what I write. Okay, when I began writing poetry more seriously I couldn't imagine that it could compare. But nevertheless, I still valued my time in £s. When I wasn't earning through journalism (and I have been freelance for all but seven and a half years of my working life) I was conscious of what I wasn't earning when I was trying to write poems.

Writers are polarised, it seems, about whether it's right to be paid to write. When I began earning money from running workshops or doing poetry residencies, I was able to cut back on the amount of journalism I did to keep my family housed and fed. Three times in my life I received grants to take time out of that constant struggle of looking after small children and being the wage earner. I was incredibly grateful for time to focus and think. Did what I produced meet 'objective' quality standards? I don't know. The grants were awarded to buy time to write.

A novelist friend once told me that she'd become aware of this privilege when she was travelling and meeting writers who fitted everything into their daily, working lives without the luxury of public subsidy. Yes, I know people who do that here. With public funding shrinking, it is the norm.

But what started me thinking about it again, apart from a thread on Facebook started by writer and publisher Charles Boyle, was arriving at the age when it is impossible to find paid work and wondering what I was going to do in the five years before collecting a pension.

Since becoming a seaside landlady with Airbnb, I've found the distance it gives from my own expectations is a massive relief. For years I was judging myself by what I could earn from writing and whether or not I'd be in line for a residency, grant or workshop. I had periods when the pressure was off, with Royal Literary Fund fellowships and the reading round - temporary and part-time jobs designed for writers that also released me from some of the insecurity of freelancing.

But with the reading group ending in June and just one surviving job providing a very small income, I thought I was facing serious problems. Airbnb has liberated me from that worry and from my own ridiculous equation i.e. literary work means I am valued as a writer.

It no longer matters. Washing sheets, changing the bed and cleaning the loo makes me happy. If I have a piece of writing on the go, I can think about it. If I don't, it doesn't matter, I enjoy the shine of the sink. Writing has gone back to being something I do for the love of words. Work provides me with a succession of fascinating people. I thank god for the sea, pier, Royal Pavilion and a washing machine.