Because I think as writers we don't talk enough, or honestly enough, about the day to day detail of what our job involves. One of the questions I often get asked, even by people who know me well, is what it’s actually like to be a writer. Do we get bored? Do we get lonely? Do we get to go to glamorous book parties? Where do we find ideas, if we’re shut up at our desks writing all the time? I struggle to answer these kinds of questions because I’m not sure I know myself what it means to talk about ‘being a writer’. And yet there is a lot which can be said about it. I constantly find myself hoarding scraps of knowledge about other writers’ lives: how they work, the spaces they write in, the creative processes by which they develop their ideas.
About a year ago, this survey found that 60% of British people see writing as a dream job, while meanwhile Sebastian Faulks was soliciting in the Spectator for any other job but writing: ‘I have now spent almost a quarter of a century alone in a garret staring at a blank wall,’ he wrote, ‘and I think it has driven me a bit mad’. It's moments like this, when the stories we tell about writing seem to differ so wildly, that I wonder whether we as writers and readers could talk more openly about the process. Writing, after all, is a job like any other. Was there a way, I began asking myself, to document a writing life in real time, as it happened, in a way that would honestly capture the ups, downs, challenges and moments of inspiration inherent in working alone on a long project? Had any writers found new ways to do this? (And did Sebastian Faulks actually spend most of his time staring at a blank wall?)
Like many writers, I use social media. I think many of us have a natural temptation to follow the lead of Elena Ferrante, but the reality is that the internet has made the process of reading and writing much more democratic. Now, if someone wants to ask a question about one of my books, or I want to read a blog post from another writer about a book I'm looking forward to, it helps to be part of the big conversation which is going on online. But what I've been noticing recently - something I find fascinating - is that people are finding powerful ways to use social media to tell stories. Our lives have become, through the way we use the internet, much more immediate to each other. It's now possible to read the thoughts of bloggers all over the world, chronicling every type of experience, to study candid photographs of strangers in other cities, to follow world events through the voices of those experiencing them first-hand, to see what it's like to do different jobs and to live other lives. Often people are telling these stories not so much in words as in photos, or in a combination of the two, using everyday tools - basic cameras, free apps and an internet connection, to tell a story as candidly as possible as it happens. And I started to wonder whether we as readers and writers could also use social media not just to talk to each other - a great thing in itself - but also to tell stories about our work. This was how project #yearinthelifeofawriter began.
For me, this is an experiment – I don’t know exactly what the story of the next year will be. In the spirit of which, here’s my first photo. This is the board I keep beside my desk, and you can see from the calendar that I know the publication dates for my new book, The House at the Edge of Night, but apart from that, the year ahead is an unwritten story.
You can follow the project here, and I will post updates on this blog as well as Facebook and Twitter. Let me know what you want this project to be. I would appreciate suggestions!