In this series of guest posts, I have asked a number of writers and editors to share the price they pay for pursuing their creative passion or what they sacrifice–whether that is money, time or lost opportunities. It might be how they pay the bills that writing doesn’t, or how they juggle working for a living or raising a family with the time it takes to write or edit. The people who have contributed have shared their personal stories in the hope it might help those new to the scene manage their expectations, or help others dealing with similar things realise they aren’t alone. You can read about the inspiration for this series here, and if you want to be part of it please let me know.
You have probably notice this blog hasn’t been very active of late. I was lucky enough to travel to the United States for–amongst other things–Worldcon, and it has been a struggle getting back in to the swing of real life! I had thought that the series had reached a natural end, but when I got back I went to Conflux where we had been asked to do a panel on the subject. Alongside Tehani and Maureen, who had done posts, it also featured Sean Williams and Craig Cormick.
Everyone had amazing things to say, which made my job as moderator so easy, and it was clear that people were still interested in reading about the topic. So, I rounded up some more contributors, including Craig and Sean, and this will be the first in a relaunch of the series.
First up is Craig who, as well as being a fascinating raconteur and talented writer, had some amazing insights that he shared on the panel. It’s a pleasure to kick off the next stage of the series with a great post from him.
Craig 1: So I have been mulling over all the ways I have had to pay for my passion to have a writing life. All the costs and all the sacrifices that I have made in life for writing – those late nights and early mornings and missed opportunities. Jobs I’ve passed up on. Parties I’ve never gone to and movies I’ve never seen. Even simple things that most of my family do that I’ve never done, like watching any of the Sopranos or Breaking Bad, or hanging out a lot… but then I thought, wait a minute, all those things were voluntary choices that I made in order to have a writing life.
Craig 2: Wait a minute, you’re not going to tell me it’s a good thing to miss all those things in life are you?
Craig 1: I’m just saying that they are decisions you make in life. And you shouldn’t consider things costs that you voluntarily gave up.
Craig 2: Then let me ask you about the things that you haven’t given up. Your day job and family and all those things that suck all your writing time away.
Craig 1: I think even my day job has helped my writing, it takes up a lot of my time, sure, but it has sent me all over the country, and all over the world, meeting all kinds of interesting people – which has given me great inspiration for stories and novels. Have a look at the list of books I’ve published – many of them have sprung from opportunities that arose from my work as a science communicator. Think about it: In Bed with Douglas Mawson – from my trip to Antarctica. The Shadow Master – from that conference in Florence. My Ned Kelly book – a wrote a lot of that when I worked at CSIRO.
Craig 2: But if you weren’t working you might be writing a lot more. There are so many other books you still want to write that are floating around in your head, but you just don’t have the time and opportunity to write them all down.
Craig 1: You think so? I’ve published over twenty-five books and over a hundred stories and have a shelf of awards and commendations – but I know there are other books that are going to get written and I know there are also some books that aren’t going to get written.
Craig 2: How can you call yourself a writer if you’re okay with that?
Craig 1: Well, sometimes I think how awesome it would be to live a life that was just writing 24-7. But when I’ve actually had that opportunity, like when I’ve had an Australia Council Grant or something – I found it a very lonely existence. I think a writer needs social interaction as well as the social isolation time to write. You also need your family to keep you balanced.
Craig 2: But don’t you resent the time they demand? Everybody wants your time. You have a wife and child with disabilities that you have to be a carer for, and you have three grown-up kids who all need time and support too.
Craig 1: No. I wouldn’t trade it for quids. It’s a part of the balance in life that makes you a writer. Those things that are difficult in life, and there are quite a few in my life if I’m honest – for my life might look a lot of fun on the outside, but it’s not all laughs up close – well, those things sharpen your soul. They demand you examine them and question them, and many of those things that don’t have easy answers can only be addressed through creatively trying to understand them. They give you a reason to write.
Craig 2: But how many times have you thought about just taking off and living in a caravan down the coast, or a house up in the Blue Mountains and writing the thing you want to write?
Craig 1: Sure, there are times like that. Of course there are. But there are more times when I stand at the door of my son’s bedroom at night and watch him sleeping and think how blessed I am. My books are very important to me – they have been a lot of heart-ache and trouble and greatly rewarding too, but truthfully, my kids and my wife are more important to me. They have all caused me greater heart-ache and trouble but greater rewards too.
Craig 2: And greater interruption to your time to write!
Craig 1: Another choice I have made in life. Let me remind you of that quote I have hanging over my desk for the past 20 years, the German poet Rilke’s advice to a young poet
“… There is only one thing you should do. Go into yourself. Find out the reason that commands you to write; see whether it has spread its roots into the very depths of your heart; confess to yourself whether you would have to die if you were forbidden to write. This most of all: ask yourself in the most silent hour of your night: must I write? Dig into yourself for a deep answer. And if this answer rings out in assent, if you meet this solemn question with a strong, simple “I must”, then build your life in accordance with this necessity; your whole life, even into its humblest and most indifferent hour, must become a sign and witness to this impulse.”
Craig 2: Yeah, yeah, yeah. I know the quote well. But I think you haven’t done that. If you had you’d be living on your own in that caravan, or that house in the Blue Mountains, writing all those books and stories you have in you to write – even in your most indifferent hour.
Craig 1: You miss the point. A writing life isn’t just about having time to write. It’s also about having experiences in life to write about. How do you write honestly about love if you haven’t loved? How do you write honestly about loss if you haven’t lost something dear? How do you write about life and death and everything if you are not out there living it and experiencing it?
Craig 2: That’s the great writer’s cop-out, claiming that everything you do that is not writing is actually research for writing.
Craig 1: No. You can write every day all your life and never come close to writing that one heart-wrenching razor-sharp story that cuts open the reader as they read it. But you might spend years and years learning from life and then write that one perfect thing. That’s what I aim for as a writer. Every story has to be a little bit better. A little bit closer to the bone. A little deeper stab into the heart. I write a lot because I’ve ordered my life to enable to me to do so. But as I’ve gotten older I’m more prepared to let some stories just wither on the vine that I don’t think are going to improve on what I’ve already done. And it took me a long time to learn to accept that.
Craig 2: Well I don’t accept it. If you’re a writer you need to be writing. You need to be listening to the voices like me that disagree with your certainty. That question what you’re doing. That demand you come back to the keyboard and write.
Craig 1: And I appreciate that. If you don’t have a voice that questions everything you do you’ll start never knowing those questions.
Craig 2: So you’re saying I’m write?
Craig 1: I’m saying you have to listen to those questions, as you need to question everything you do before you know if it is good.
Craig 2: And what do you do then?
Craig 1: You learn to then ignore that nagging incessant doubting voice in your head.
Craig 2: Hey, you can’t ignore me! I’m a part of your psyche. I’m the little voice in the back of your head that makes you think doubt and then think deeper about everything you’re doing. You need me!
Craig 1: Sorry. Just one of those sacrifices you have to make in life…
Craig Cormick is a Canberra-based author. His most recent-books are The Shadow Master series with Angry Robot Books. He has published over 25 books and his writing awards include the ACT Book of the Year Award and a Queensland Premiers Literary Award. He has been chair of the ACT Writers Centre, has taught creative writing at University and community levels, has been a Writer in Residence at the University of Science in Malaysia and has been an Antarctic Arts Fellow, travelling to all three of Australia’s mainland bases in Antarctica. You can find more things about Craig on his website: www.craigcormick.com