I once had a lovely dinner with the famous writer, John Irving and his wife, Janet. John wrote The World According to Garp, The Hotel New Hampshire, Cider House Rules, and a host of others, including my personal favourite, A Prayer for Owen Meany, which I found on the shelf of a youth hostel in Australia and nicked. Along the way, Irving racked up National Book Critics Award and an Oscar for best screenplay of Cider House Rules. He is presently writing the TV serial adaption of The World According to Garp. That’s an ok cv, in my books.
John turned out to be quite the raconteur, regaling us with stories of Kurt Vonnegut Jr, John Lithgow, and Robin Williams, a book reading before an audience stoned out of their minds, and mistakes in his novels because he misremembered his own childhood. He and Janet also treated my adolescent daughter, Teddy, with considerable respect and interest, which endeared them both to me.
Despite all these wonderful stories I found myself repeating one small statement he’d made: he writes 7 hours a day, 7 days a week.
This reminded me of something that editors say to each other. Everyone thinks they can write. An astonishing number of people have told me that they plan on writing once they retire, or kids are in school, or this contract gets completed, etc. And I nod sympathetically.
Life is busy. I get that. I have made glorious plans to do things, some of which I’ve even started and fewer still which I‘ve completed.
But writers write. That’s what they do. They keep diaries or blog, send long hand-written letters to elderly relatives, fill in the text of their friend’s home made comics, work on the high school yearbook, write for their college newspaper, and drop a course in conversational Spanish for one based on reading and writing. They write the speeches for their friends who have to give a presentation; they compose limericks or moving poems and then give them as presents; they write reviews on Amazon; they write letters to the editor and to their MPs. That’s what they do, they write.
They write because they are writers.
Whether they get published or not is another matter.