Why on Earth do I do this?
A 2018 survey of 50,000 writers in the UK found that the average annual income from writing was £16,096. Furthermore it’s not distributed equally. The top 10% earners take 70% of the total income. 90% of writers earn somewhere between £0 and £4,000. That is not, on the whole, a lot of money.
This has got me thinking, why do I want to be an author? Why do I feel the need to devote significant chunks of my life to this activity? As a part timer, I am extraordinarily unlikely to achieve a good income from my writing. I would be better off getting a part time job at my local convenience store.
A younger Gem might argue that the activity has intrinsic value. Writing is worth doing in and of itself because there is a primary goodness to be found in the creative act. Art is valuable – yes, even that really shit piece of art you’re thinking of, you know the one. The one that made all the money.
Contemporary Gem is a touch more cynical. I don’t disagree with my younger self, he certainly has a point. Yet, if that is all it were, it fails to explain why I’m not simply smashing out the arts on my Telecaster in the garage or through oil on canvass. If I were making art just me for myself, the dopamine feedback loop would be much tighter if I did it in musical or visual form.
No, if I’m honest with myself, I write because I feel that is a creative endeavour where I stand a chance receiving external validation. As much as I enjoy playing guitar and painting nobody else is likely to give a damn. In writing, however, I believe that I have something to offer others. This must be the explanation – right? I’m old and grumpy enough to acknowledge that I thrive on recognition from others. Maybe I’m in the minority there. Maybe I’m not. But it is true for me.
So, to recap, I write because it’s an intrinsically valuable creative endeavour and one where I see a good potential for external validation.
There is another question lurking beneath this bridge if introspection; why do any damned thing at all? I’m a very lucky man in that I earn a reasonable income doing a job that I broadly enjoy. Why not leave it at that? Watch more films? Read more books for goodness sake?!
For myself at least I believe the answer to this lies in three closely connected points that centre on my age. I’m going to be thirty-five in a few days, an age that is likely to elicit one of two markedly different responses. You’ll either wince on my behalf – it’s getting on a bit isn’t it? Mid to late thirties is the age of our parents when we first notice such things as children. It’s proper grown-up.
On the other hand you might scoff. It’s nothing. Still the right side of forty. Plenty of gas left in the proverbial tank. Everything is still broadly firm at that point!
Either way, I’m at an age where I’m set into routines. Work, children, relatives. So much of my life is predetermined, on a day-to-day basis, in contrast to my free-wheeling twenties. Writing gives me back control. Any creative endeavour breaks the routine.
Secondly, this is an age where I’m beginning to feel the pang of lost opportunities. I’ll never be a professional sportsperson. Or a rock star. I’m unlikely to ever be a leading man in a Hollywood production. Yet … I could still get my bestselling novels produced by HBO. Writing is the diem I can still carpe!
Finally, writing allows me to keep in touch with myself. Writing is a deeply introspective activity and I have always been comfortable in my own head – even if this hasn’t always been a source of happiness. There’s an internal Gem Jackson, an authentic ‘me’, that I worry gets lost amid the work, the parenting and the weekly shop. Writing keeps me in touch with that Gem. I settle back into myself for an hour or two.
In the spirit of openness, it is this last point that drives me more than any other. Beneath it all I’m worried about losing myself. Little by little, year by year I can feel it. Writing is one of the antidotes. It is a supporting strut holding up my psychological skyscraper – and you don’t get that working part-time at the local convenience store, do you?
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