A Day in the Life of the Struggling Writer

5.30 am: wake up, try to recall absolutely brilliant, bestselling story idea that popped into head at 2am but fail (research suggests those of us who grandly assume we have a creative streak have our best ideas at the most inconvenient time of day if you like – conventionally – to sleep at night).

5.45 am: get up, make coffee in the hope caffeine will jog memory and release necessary from Ideas Bank. It doesn’t.

6.15 am: turn on computer and check mails in hope that one of the 47 newspaper/magazine editors you wrote to yesterday with marvellous pitch for a feature has replied with a commission.  3 have. You open each message with trembling fingers.

The first reads: “so and so is out of the office until 24 January 2011, in an emergency please contact x” (you’ve contacted x before and know that not much you have to offer will be considered an emergency)

Disappointed, you read the second. “thank you so much for your idea.  It is very interesting and would make a great feature for our pages but unforunately we have a story on precisely the same topic in next month’s edition/we have just covered this”.  (They haven’t; you checked).   I can rest assured my idea will be used. Only it won’t be written up by me. Ideas – I was told by an editor on one of the UK’s broadsheets – are the currency of  newspapers and magazines. Which means I’ve lost quite alot of money.

You read the last message telling yourself third time lucky. Except that it isn’t: ”your idea on insomnia is most interesting and would make a great feature for our magazine” encouraging so far “however we feel that owing to where you live, you are not in a position to write this up for us”. Hellooooo! don’t you think people in Africa suffer from sleeplessness too? What the editor means – of course – is that because I live where I do, I must be badly educated and English a second language.  Whether I live with insomnia has nothing at all to do with it.

Dispirited you drink more coffee and then – because if you call yourself a writer you need to do something to justify lofty title (largely because you’d quite like people to talk to you when you go to parties – especially if you live in an Outpost – which they might not do if you say you are Just A Mum. The general public lives by mistaken belief that those in paid employment have more interesting things to say than those of us who are employed and unpaid at home despite the fact we live life on the front line and have the peace keeping skills of a United Nations negotiator) so you trawl internet for:

freelance markets for writers

you get 1,890,000 hits. Which is encouraging. Until you remember you’ve tried most of them before. (really you have: it’s called Working when you’re a housewife pretending to be a writer).

Then you attempt to unearth Paid Work for Writers.

more than 2,000,000 hits – the top one is looking for writers in Miami. which instinct tells you will be a bit like trying to write up the insomnia story.

By noon this particular writer has written nothing except 107 emails to assorted editors/freelance markets/friends; a shopping list and her signature 26 times on sheet of scrap paper in the hope of one day being asked to sign inside jacket of her book even though she doens’t need the practice: in recent years she’s had to sign so many cheques for school fees she could do it with her eyes closed.

The afternoon hours stretch and relax to nothingness as you gaze out of the window seeking inspiration (not about what to write but whom you haven’t thought of yet to write to). And then you remember that a Real Writer once wrote ”having published my first book, I found I was able to make a substantial living as a freelancer”.

Needless to say, you’ve already written a book. Three actually. You hoik them out of computer archives and dust them off – metaphorically, of course – and wonder who you could resubmit them to, and whether the passage of time since you last submitted is long enough that they might have forgotten what they said. My choices are quite limited – 43 publishers and in most cases the commissioning editors are still alive and well with intellects insufficently eroded by dementia yet to remeber that they said, ”thanks for sending your work in but I regret it doesn’t demonstrate sufficient commercial appeal for our lists’.

It’s only at this point that you notice the time and scramble to your feet to throw supper together. Your husband pours you a drink and asks what you’ve been up to all day.  You sigh dramatically, ”working”, you say, whilst you hastily put a pasta dish together thinking guiltiy that it’s the most useful thing you’ve done since remembering to put clean knickers on at 6 this morning.

Anything? husband asks hopefully – he means any work, proper paying work that comes with pound signs and number on it – nah, nothing, you admit, stirring bolognese furiously.

Never mind. Think of JK Rowling: she worked for years before she made any money.


Why do non-writers always drag JK up for those who pretend to write? Do they really think reference to her fortune makes our lack of success easier to bear? It’s either her or Mary Wesley.

And I don’t want to wait until I’m 70 to make any money out of what I pretend to do, for God’s sake: I need nice shoes now.


18 Responses to “A Day in the Life of the Struggling Writer”

  1. Steve Crane Says:

    Have you ever considered self-publishing through lulu.com or similar?

  2. R. Sherman Says:

    You should write the stories and copyright them before you submit the ideas. Then, at least, if someone steals your thunder, you could sue them and get rich.

    Or at least the shoes.


    Hang in there, and


  3. Roberta Says:

    It’s too bad you can’t charge a fee for reading your blog. Hang in there, I smell a new pair of shoes in your future.

  4. megaarchlord Says:

    I am a writer and this is familiar, it is very hard and I know how this feels but everyone has a break once in their life, so to all writers, I say keep writing and when you break comes you will not regret it.

  5. reluctantmemsahib Says:

    Steve – hmmmm, thing is that many rejections from publishers and you do have to question to produce … no? I do.

    Mr Sherman. Thank you. What a good idea. I might even get a handbag to match then, mightn’t I?

    Roberta – you’re a doll. Thank you.

    Megaarchlord – you’re not wrong: very hard. Thanks for dropping by.

  6. megaarchlord Says:

    Haha, well I guess it is very hard, but a few publishers liked my very first work which was a suprise and a few companies liked it enough to call me and my partner a genius, they gave us hope so that is why we are continuing ;), I hope everyone does well in their life.

  7. MisssyM Says:

    I have no advice, I’m afraid. I write stuff for a living but it’s all commercial stuff. I dream of day when someone might ask me to write something that I would actually like to read.

    I think the only thing to do is keep writing, keep sending, keep emailing and don’t give away any more ideas- that “oh, we are already working on something similar ” line is a classic in TV too (the BBC are notorious for it)

  8. Primal Sneeze Says:

    I don’t, and never will, write, but my sibling’s partner does, partly for pleasure but mostly in the hope of getting something published – some day. It hasn’t happened yet. Probably never will.

    Two to four hours a day pointing out letters on a laminated sheet to a carer and having her type them can be frustrating when your mind is running at faster-miles-an-hour but your hand can only point out a couple of letters every minute.

    We have it easy. So keep plugging, Mem. Keep plugging.

    (Sorry, if this sounds like a stereotype Irish shur, it could be worse).

  9. Carolyn Says:

    I need nice shoes now, too!

    I would never have the guts to put myself on the line with anything like you do with your writing dear – I agree with Roberta, it’s coming soon for you!

  10. Georgie Says:

    God I so know how that feels! Has your blog helped at all when sending out your manuscripts? I am in the process of setting up a blog (ugh I’m a total technofile – would you recommend wordpress.com for people who can’t stand the details and just want to get on and write? Yours looks great but was it easy to set up?) because have been advised I need a platform. Once an agent sees you already have an audience they should feel reassured you can make them money…

    Ever thought of publishing chapter one on your blog and if people want to read more charging them for the rest? Wishing you lots of luck and self-belief!

  11. Iota Says:

    A pasta dish and clean knickers is NOT nothing. (As I write that, I realise it could be a marvellous first line for a novel.)

  12. reluctantmemsahib Says:

    Misssy – thanks. And I hope somebody asks you to write something you’d like to read too: you could always pitch a column on hellish Christmases to somebody …? Now’s the time …

    Primal – you are right. so right. I do have it easy. But you must allow me a brief writerly hissy fit! If only to delude myself that that’s what I am!

    thanks Carolyn. If you get new shoes, I will too. To hell with housekeeping!

    Hello Georgia, thanks for dropping by. Yes, I was told that too: that a blog would ”elevate my profile” (what profile I wanted to ask?). It hasn’t. But it has given me two things I hadn’t thought about: a fabulous outlet for writing that promotes the discipline to write the prescribed 500/1000 words a day at – one hopes – a level that is interesting enough to entertain a few – or at least mostly correctly spelled with reasonable grammer. And I love the feedback and support and laughs that I get from those who read my stuff. No, I could never, ever charge.

    Good luck with your blog. I don’t think there’s much difference between blog facilities: some people are just very clever at uploading stuff. I’m not. I’ve sort of learned as I’ve gone along. Don’t be afraid to ask for help; the tech guys on blogs are always quick to assist.

    Iota: oh thank you, thank you: I agree clean knickers and pasta are NOT nothing but I kind of needed to hear that from someone else. Yesterday I outdid myself; managed to thread a few beads on the beaded curtain I’m making my eldest daughter, go to the shop (to buy teabags), find clean shorts even AND write 107 emails to assorted editors etc!

  13. Carol Says:

    It will come…. and I’ve read your books as manuscripts and thought they were great. All these publishers are bonkers in my opinion…. Hang in there big sis!

  14. reluctantmemsahib Says:

    Thanks little sis! You wouldn’t be a bit biased though, would you … x

  15. Mom de Plume Says:

    Hi, I feel your pain… I am also trying to get my Big Break in the world of writing and have even gone so far as to submit completed articles at the request of certain editors who have failed MISERABLY to get back to me after the submission deadline. I am really just starting out so not REALLY sure who to contact and what to say but perseverence is my friend at the moment. Good luck and here’s hoping!

  16. Madame Marcia the Fortune Teller « Reluctant Memsahib Says:

    […] Reluctant Memsahib the diary of wife, mother and failed domestic goddess in Africa « A Day in the Life of the Struggling Writer […]

  17. Kathleen Says:

    New publisher in the UK “Snowbooks”.

  18. reluctantmemsahib Says:

    Thanks for the encouragement Mom de Plume; it’s a miserable business though, isn’t it?

    Kathleen – great. thank you.

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