On Being a Writer

I’m a writer. I spend my days writing and, just about often enough to get the mortgage paid, I earn money from it. We’re a rare breed, those of us who do it for a living, and I think that this is a fairly rare blog in telling it how it is. If you want to be a writer, or if you’re a writer doing what you do and want to blog about it, this is your space.

The image of a writer is of a blissful lifestyle, and, if you don’t need to earn enormous amounts of money, be famous or inflate a flabby ego, it is. I don’t sit in a shed at the bottom of the garden, although I do look over a beautiful meadow in the heart of Sussex, nor do I sit here and dream up stories that fly off the shelves all over the world. I write non-fiction; biographies and articles about food, people who do amazing things with food, and people who change the world – including children. And I love it.

www.gillysmith.com will tell you more, but this blog is about what it’s like to be a writer, the ups and downs, the challenges and how I meet them, and what it feels like when I don’t. A writer’s life can be as exciting as it is lonely, as self disciplined as it is in the lap of the gods and an endlessly creative, dull as ditch water, high as a kite, cliche ridden whirlpool. It’s the best place in the world (a meadow in Sussex) and the darkest place in the Universe (my head after a rejection).

For those of you who want to be a writer, being a successful one is largely about making the right kind of contacts or being in the right place at the right time. You’ll need to be able to write, and that falls into two camps – and only two. You either can, or you can’t. Forget the courses – if you’re working in non-fiction at least; it’s either in you or it isn’t. It’ll be the thing that burns away at you while you’re sitting in the wrong job, or the only way you can express yourself. Sit in front of a blank screen and see what happens. I bet that within two minutes, you’ll have the answer.

But being a writer is a different story altogether. For a start, can you sell yourself as well as you write? Chances are that you won’t have a clue. I know writers, mainly in fiction, whose confidence is staggering, and they really can. But for most of us, learning how to pick up the phone to an editor we’ve never met to pitch an idea for an article is a challenge that would make most Buddhists tremble. Tripping through the etiquette of email submissions, sending your best ideas into the ether and into a newspaper culture which is based on sticky mud, can be soul destroying, especially when there’s no-one to moan with by the photocopier. But there are tricks to getting through all these, and I hope this blog will show how writing can be the best job in the world and a great life lesson.

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