Being a 'real' writer


I don’t feel like a writer. Writers have proper studies, bookshelves that line the whole room, buckling under weighty tomes, most likely the entire pantheon of Russian novelists that I’ve never read. They have newspapers delivered to be read over breakfast. Real writers have agents. Some of them have bizarre rituals involving special books, special pens and very special glasses of red wine before they start writing. And, most importantly, they shuffle off to their studies every day and stay there until the requisite amount of words have been produced, sweating and bleeding over their manuscripts in the pursuit of Great Works of Art.

I don’t do that.

My study is a table wedged into the space at the top of the stairs, lost under a sewing machine, various magazines and a cat. My books are piled up in precarious towers topped off with groups of Sylvanian Families figurines. I never read newspapers. Agent? Are you kidding me? Granted, I’m precious about my favourite pens and fret about the kids using them, but there’s no red wine sitting near the laptop or else I’d fall asleep on the sofa. Or spill it over the laptop, an even more disastrous prospect career-wise. More to the point, while I’d like to think I could sit down and write for several hours every day, real life has a habit of intervening, often in the shape of a small child complaining that they haven’t got any clean pants to wear to school. So no, I don’t feel like a writer.

I’ve learned to fit writing in around the edges of my life, to jump straight in and write rather than drumming my fingers while waiting for the Muse to turn up first. To write amidst a flurry of interruptions and food-related demands. To enjoy it rather than fret about it. Somehow it’s been working; a couple of competitions won, the chance to take part in events such as last year’s 24 hour plays at the Ustinov studio in Bath. And then the big one, being chosen to participate in the Writersroom 10 scheme. Abandoning the school run in favour of travelling down to the BBC in London, participating in masterclasses, getting to know other writers and the Writersroom team, and taking part in a showcase at Newcastle Live Theatre in March.

It’s meant having to pretend I’m a real writer.

Then last week I found myself sitting in a studio in MediaCity Salford, taking part in a recording of The Verb for Radio 3. Watching Ian McMillan gesticulating passionately as he talked, his voice familiar to me from listening to the show. Being asked my opinions on storytelling alongside the other “real” guests (I insisted I was merely the competition winner.) It’s as far from the laundry pile as it’s possible to get, and I loved every minute of it.

On the train home, I realised I’m doing okay. I’m in a place I could only have dreamed about a couple of years ago. I’ve just had a play on national radio, I’ve a theatre production in October and I’m finally in a position where I’m being invited to take part in projects; tramping around a graveyard in search of a commission last Friday, exploring bleak industrial areas of Bristol in search of another on Monday. It feels good. It feels (whisper) like being a writer. A real writer. And it seems to me that maybe this is it – this quiet progress of step by step, word by word, interspersed with hoovering, mending and bedtime stories; this is what being a writer looks like. Not having a fantasy writing hut at the bottom of the garden, not having my name in lights on a sell-out West End show. Just writing and living and writing some more, when I can, what I can. So maybe we should all stop worrying about whether we’re “real” writers. Maybe we could relax and keep on writing. Keep sending our stories out into the world. And above all else, stop comparing ourselves to “real” writers and enjoy being the writers that we are.

Still, while I’m wiping up yet another puddle of piddle from the bathroom floor I can’t help but think “Bet you Harold Pinter never had to do this.”
Probably not. But then he was a real writer, wasn’t he?

Katherine Mitchell was one the 10 writers selected for our Writersroom 10 scheme.  Her play, 'CSI: Millionaire' was broadcast on Radio 3's 'The Verb'on Friday 4th May - listen back to it on BBC iPlayer.


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