Living with the Truth Stranger than Fiction This Is Not About What You Think Milligan and Murphy Making Sense

Monday, 31 December 2007

You've never had it so good

Writing is a lonely business. You write alone but that's not what I mean. If you are a writer you are lonely. Well, I was. Desperately. At least that's how I used to feel.

I am sure there are writers out there who won't agree with that. And that's fine. Where I grew up, though it could have been anywhere in Scotland, you didn't make a big deal about being a writer and, if you did let it slip, the first question was always – always – "Have you been published?" or some variant thereof. And, as I hadn't been, my writing was relegated to either a hobby or a phase I would grow out of. Either way it was nothing to be taken seriously.


"So you are a
practicing poet?"
she asked,
and I felt unclean
and wanted my closet back.

23 March 1989

Once I started appearing in print the next question was, "So, how much did you get paid?" or a variant thereof. Somehow the £1.50 I got from Aberdeen University was hardly worth mentioning. If anything it was best not to mention it.

Twenty-odd years later I'd finally got round to that novel we're all supposed to have in us. My father, whose eyesight was starting to go by this point, said, "Read me that story you wrote." I said, "Dad, it's a novel," but it was never going to be anything other than "that story our Jimmy wrote." We never even got to the end, not because he died or anything (that would have been poetic) but one day he'd had heard enough.

I know that sounds sad (and it is) but this is not a cry for sympathy. I could've used a hug at the time but I survived. I was sure I wasn't alone in my aloneness. It's a big world, there was bound to be someone else out there wallowing in aloneness. I had to believe there were others out there scribbling away for dear life and not showing anyone or hardly anyone but they didn't know me and I didn't know them.

A few years later, just after my dad died, I logged onto the internet for the first time, typed "poetry" into a search engine and the rest is history. Writers think in words, we distil complex emotions to a few letters. I can reduce my feelings on the day I logged onto the internet, typed "poetry" and started to check out the links to a single word: home.

The US Democratic Party used the phrase 'You never had it so good' as a slogan in the 1952 US election campaign. In the UK, the expression is generally associated with Harold Macmillan's opinion as to the success of Britain's post-war economy; that was in 1957. Fifty years on can I just say to the young writers out there: You have never had it so good. Okay, getting published is so much harder than it was back in the fifties but at least you don't have to be alone. There are blogs and forums and online communities and you never have to be alone again. You can still choose to be alone but somehow it is so much easier knowing you're not.

It won't make the writing any easier mind.


So, we've reached the end of 2007. It's a benchmark. I know when I started writing this blog I had my doubts if I could keep churning out a quality blog week in week out but I seem to be doing okay. Let's see if I can keep it up.

The nice thing, and the thing I didn't anticipate, is that I'm not as alone in this venture as I expected. I knew there would be readers but I wasn't so prepared for relationships. There you go. So, to all my unexpected friends I wish you a happy New Year when it comes and I'll see you on the other side.


Unknown said...

Jim, I enjoyed these reflections, thank you. I feel less lonely as a result of new blogging connections and friendships too. Never expected I would, find it hard to explain to non-bloggers, but it's very real, makes me feel better about who I am, what I do, and that there might yet be a decent future for us muddled mixed up human beings...

Enjoy the New Year when it comes


Dave King said...

That really resonated with me, Jim. I wrote a bit at college, but nothing serious, and of course you are not alone at college. Later - much later - I thought I would give it a (serious) whirl. From then on my experience has been exactly what you describe. Even now, tell someone I blog, and all they want to know is how many hits do you get. Never what do you blog about, or anything to do with content. The other thing that has made a real difference has been the word-processor.

johnbakeronline said...

Happy New Year to you, too, Jim.
Some of my best writing has come out of or through my loneliness, so I am loath to give it up. But, as you say, it's good to know there are others out there in the dark.

Jim Murdoch said...

Yes, Dave, people are always looking for some benchmark, some way to judge you. I suppose one of the worst examples is asking a woman, "And what is it your husband does?" as if her partner's profession has any bearing on her as an individual. But then it has because their judging her ability to snag a good man. It's all very tiresome.

My father was never a great Monty Python fan but I did get him to sit down once in his seventies and listen to the 'Four Yorkshiremen Sketch' in which each of the four systematically tries to outdo the others not by his successes but by comparing how awful their upbringings were. He roared with laughter. If you've never seen it there a copy on YouTube. They've even got the original sketch from At Last the 1948 Show.

It's the fact that when people ask you about your successes I always feel that a bit of them is expecting not to be impressed and they are actually a bit disappointed if you come back with a decent answer. I don't think I'll ever understand people.

As for loneliness, John, yes, it did generate a lot of material and there are times I wish I could flick a switch and dip into it again. That said, since I never share my works in progress and I rarely talk about the specifics of what I'm writing, I still choose to live with a level of creative isolation if not exactly social loneliness.

Blogging of course, Joanne, goes a long way to keeping loneliness at bay. I used to spend a lot of time on a while back and that was good too but is just gobbled up my time and drained me. Blogging and commenting (when I can add something constructive) is definitely a better system for me.

Happy New Year to all of you.

GC SMITH said...

It is a lonely business this writing even when Blogging. Happy New Year.

Conda Douglas said...

You're so right, Jim. When my father, who was a successful artist, found out I was a writer, he tried everything to discourage me. He knew how hard a creative life is. He stopped when I asked: "So you just do art, you're not an artist? Like I only write, I'm not a writer?"

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