So, in case you hadn’t heard (and I know I’ve been going on about it a fair bit so forgive me if you’ve heard a little too often), I’ve moved to Guildford with my wonderful partner Michelle. We’ve found a beautiful flat that’s exactly where we want it to be and just the right size for two crazy book-hoarders like us (yes, my love, you’re a hoarder too).
Moving in has been a big adventure and quite a frightening but momentous step, but one I know I’ll never regret. We love living together, spending time (whether doing something together or simply being the same room but absorbed in our individual activities). I’ve even gotten excited about furniture – there’s something I never thought I’d say.
Though to be fair, I’ve managed to wind up with a writing desk out of it.
And speaking of writing, this move has given me a surprising amount of time to tap away at the keyboard. I’m about waist deep in a new project, a disturbing novel (I have questioned whether any publisher will take it) set in 90s England about a cult and a lone Inspector. More on that anon. I’ve also been blessed with the news another of my novels is imminently coming out: Across the Bitter Sea. This one is a fantasy novel inspired by the world of mythic Finland. It’s a dark twist on the epic tale of The Kalevala; like its inspiration, it’s filled with duplicitous characters and magic that is odd and unsettling.
But, on the the title of this blog. What is an honest day’s work? How does storytelling (perhaps a more accurate description of what a true writer is) fit into modern society when clearly there is so little call for writing and storytelling in a professional capacity?
The answer is, unfortunately, something like very badly in some ways and very well in others. There are so many ways to access and create story that people are empowered and it provides opportunities for people who might never have been able to voice their ideas in the past. The internet is a living hive of bees endlessly producing their own stories, observations, anecdotes and even full length prose works. Large portions of it are free. This is all good and healthy but it becomes problematic when someone wants to then make a living out of their writing, because, well, look over there: there are a bunch of guys and gals letting us have all this stuff for free. Why should I pay you? The answer I would like to give is: Well, I’m an expert. But the thing about art is the value is hard to measure. If you fix a burst pipe or build a hospital, the value is materially observable. The value of music, art, literature, movies, games is internal, emotional, and difficult to observe.
There’s another problem with writing in particular. Unlike playing an instrument, almost everyone in this world can talk and speak at least one language. If you can’t play the piano, there’s no way to fake it (only playing the black keys gets old very quickly folks). If you’re not a professional writer, you can still put together sentences fluently and could even tell a story. This means that lots of writing in industries such as the gaming industry is done by another team member. Why pay the extra money to get a writer in when the lead developer could do it for free?
Well, because the dialogue in the majority of video games is absolutely terrible (or at least inconsistent), that’s why.
There’s other issues. Writing as a process is largely misunderstood. I was fortunate enough to speak with one of the lead content writers at Lionhead, Ben Brooks. He said something absolutely profound: when he was freelancing so many companies brought him in at the end of the the project to tighten up the writing. They didn’t want any advice on story or even quest design. Text had already been written, the direction of the game decided: Ben was brought in just to edit.
WHAT’S THE POINT?
As a writer, the focus is normally story. In the scenario above the story has already been decided on – in fact, they might as well have gotten in an editor not a writer.
Once, one of my friends told me they didn’t believe writers should be able to earn more than minimum wage because they didn’t contribute anything to society. I told them, politely, they were mistaken. They asked me to prove it. I pointed out to them that every Monday night at 9:00pm, without fail, they sat and watched Game of Thrones. They’d once told me it was a huge boost at the start of the week. I pointed out to them that every time I saw them they quoted lines from their latest book on Tauism – the philosophy was really inspiring their way of life including diet, exercise regime, outlook and attitude at work, and even their relationship. I pointed out that right now as we spoke we were sitting tapping our feet to musical lyrics in a room filled with computer games, dvds, books, towering monolithic stacks of TV serials. That person’s whole world was shaped by art. They just didn’t know it.
I agree with that friend some people in this world are paid too much, especially when you consider how little others are paid (my dad has a wonderful saying that the harder you work the less you get) but I’m not prepared to accept I contribute nothing to society. Only the top writers (the Stephen Kings of this world) ever make enough to live on anyway. My friend need hardly worry about writers stealing engineering wages.
And on the subject of wages, I’ve been searching for new opportunities in Guildford. It’s interesting to note what kinds of jobs there seems to be an abundance of and what jobs are almost non-existent. For example: paid article writing, copywriting, editing, in-house script-writing, in-house play-writing, these jobs seem to have vanished from the face of the earth even in artistically blossoming towns. On the other hand there is no shortage of telephone sales positions – mostly for questionable health insurance schemes.
It calls into question what is really important and how society has partly determined this for us.
Anyway, enough from me: what are your thoughts?
Thanks for reading. More coming soon.