And yet I still couldn't call myself a writer.
Why? Because I didn't have a book deal. No one had yet come up to me and said 'I will pay you some money and I will turn your stories into things with covers that people can go into a shop to buy.' As soon as they did say this (obviously not using these exact words, as that would just have been silly) I was released. Finally, I could call myself a writer.
But should it really be like this? Should someone else offering us a contract to sign really be what it takes to define ourselves as writers? I don't think it should. And so, after about ten years of working full time as a writer (YAY! A fact I am still grateful for every day) and observing my own and my fellow writers' habits and psyches, I am today declaring a new way to tell if you really are a true writer. If you can tick off most of the points below, then forget the contract, the books, the sales...you're a writer!
1. You possess at least one decent pair of pyjamas and are happy to stay in them for half the day. When the postman knocks on the door with a parcel at midday, and you rush down the stairs, hair askew, PJs and slippers still on, you breathlessly announce, 'I haven't just got up. I've been working since 7, honest,' and even though he doesn't believe you, you don't mind. All you're bothered about is that you can sign his modern electronic thingy as quickly as possible and get back to work.
2. You are addicted to tea, and drink anywhere between five and ten cups a day. At the end of the day, when your partner comes home from work and can't find a cup anywhere, you quietly slip into your office and retrieve the seven cups that are scattered around your desk, abandoned because you were so involved in your work you forgot to take them back to the kitchen. (NB Can be substituted for coffee. The important thing is the 'lots of' and the leaving dirty mugs around the place.)
3. You have a thing about notebooks. Big, small, glittery fairies on the cover or deep-smelling black leather - it doesn't matter. What matters is that you have a whole shelf of them in your cupboard, most of which you will probably never use because you don't want to sully their beautiful smooth clean whiteness.
4. You have a borderline obsession with stationery. You cannot pass a Staples without swerving towards the door. And don't even get me started on Paperchase.
5. While we're on the subject...you don't like it when people get 'stationery' and 'stationary' mixed up. Or use apostrophe's when they shouldn't. (Yes, I did put that one in there on purpose. It was a joke. Did you spot it instantly? Good sign!) You have probably at some point in your life either asked to see the manager or defaced a restaurant's menu in the name of good grammar.
7. You have a good internet connection. This is essential, so that as soon as you switch on your computer to get down to work, you can write lots of emails to your friends, upload your latest pics onto your facebook page, check your amazon sales rankings, write a new blog, read all your favourite blogs, and then tweet about how upset you are that you haven't got any work done yet.
8. You have a good memory. Your first book comes out. There are twenty glowing reviews on Amazon. And then...dun dun DUNNNNNNN.... (that was dramatic music, by the way) someone gives it TWO STARS!! You are spitting with rage. You want to reply. (Just type 'Jacqueline Howett' into Google if you are ever tempted to do this.) Eventually you calm down. But the two star review is the one you never forget.
9. You go round giving people advice like 'always carry a notebook with you', but because you fail to take your own sage advice, you have a drawer full of serviettes, menus and receipts, covered in illegible scrawl - or to put it differently 'the breakthrough idea that is going to propel your book to the top of New York Times bestseller list'. And yes, you will also wonder why you always get your best ideas when you're out having a cuppa with your mum.
10. And OK, I'll get serious then. The final point on your list. You have an over-riding passion for stories and characters and words. Your book is with you constantly. You could be out anywhere, doing anything, and someone will say something that you think sounds cool, and you will want to use it in your next book. You'll bore all of your friends as you ask them to help you come up with a title for a book that they haven't even read yet because you haven't let them (and it isn't actually finished). You can experience any situation - good or bad - and know that nothing is wasted if you're a writer. Everything is inspiration. And even in the quieter times, the 'winter' of your story (see previous blog on the Seasons of Writing!) you know that if you couldn't write, you'd only feel half alive.