Reflections of a ghost



“The haunted typewriter”, by JW Donley

I recently tried to separate writing from the rest of my life, now that the former has joined the latter in being a full-time rarely-paid job. Even though I love writing and it is my life, bidding for poorly-paid gigs had to be separated from the less pressured stuff. I’ll never stop enjoying all kinds of writing but as it’s so fulfilling, I wanted the “me” stuff to be separate from the work I might do for others. The solution was quite unexpected.

Most “normal” people will do a job during the day, then do something relaxing when they’re not working. For me, writing is both. My particular brand of depression means that I find it difficult to relax my mind, which is great for a writer. Even though I’m not diagnosed schizophrenic, I needed to split my personality between the two kinds of writing and create a work / life balance.

I’ve worked from home before, when I ran businesses. Perhaps it was my depression, or maybe just eccentricity but what I used to do then, was this:

I’d wake in the morning and get dressed for work (trousers, shirt and jacket). I’d have a cup of tea, then I’d leave home for the office. But I worked from home? Simple: I’d leave my flat and walk clockwise around a loop of residential roads in Bexley. Twenty minutes later, I’d arrive at the office. Of course, I was at home again but I was in work mode. Then I’d work for a few hours. Once I’d finished work, I’d leave the flat and walk anti-clockwise back home. I’d have a shower, get changed and I was back in home mode. Unfortunately, writing isn’t that kind of job.

I could employ the walk-to-and-from-work method but this life never stops and I’d be forever wandering around in the village. Social anxiety wouldn’t permit that in any case. This job doesn’t recognise hours of the day or days of the week. Hours can become days sometimes. Sometimes, I just don’t want to stop. And there’s no reason to, but for that separation between the two types of writing I do. The answer wasn’t so much staring me in the face, as waiting to pop out of the pages of a newspaper.

As a writer, I read a lot: books, magazines, newspapers, Wikipedia… It’s research, learning and thinking. The office part of my studio (so, the whole studio) isn’t wanting for books, including volumes on writing. Writers, no matter how far separated by success, are kindred spirits: They want people to enjoy what they do. But it’s mainly a game of solitaire, so writers talk to each other, a lot. We are all lonely together.

We talk in online fora (the grammatical pedant in me will not simply pluralise the singular “forum”, when “fora” is the plural), by email and sometimes, even in person. The latter is rare for me, as social anxiety is one of the more crippling aspects of my depression. Many writers have written books, on writing. I write a blog.

One of my most treasured volumes is “I’d Rather be Writing”, by Marcia Golub, which deals with writers procrastinating; By allowing writers to procrastinate by reading about how not to: It is a good book but I treasure it because I get the gag, even if it wasn’t intended. In any case, it’s a writer’s help volume, written by a kindred spirit. That’s why I love writing, besides the writing itself: We’re a community and although there are hierarchies, even those at the top of their game remember what it was like before they got there.

The unexpected solution (for me, personally) came from Toby Litt, in an excellent feature in The Guardian: Experiment, play, throw away. The Guardian is the writers’ newspaper (for me, personally) and in this article, some very respected and well-known authors gave some personal tips to others who might be trying to improve themselves, their work, and their chances of success.

When I write for other people on freelance work, I’m not writing for myself; In some cases, I am actually a ghostwriter. With my own work, I’m me and my own boss. My depression dictates that I am my own harshest critic, and although that’s good when writing for someone else, it doesn’t help the words flow when all that matters is getting thoughts down on paper (or screen). So change the person. But I’ve tried that? So adopt a pseudonym.

And there it was, staring at me from the pages of The Guardian. Of course, when I ghostwrite, I’m an invisible pseudonym for the client. When I’m my own boss, I need to separate client and writer, even with my novels and short stories. This isn’t to say I’ll use a pseudonym to publish my work: I need the exposure. What it does mean, is that I’ve created another person. Writers inhabit their characters anyway. I’m now a character of my own making, whom I have control over, when my pseudonym is writing for me. She’s an invisible pseudonym.

I know my fictional characters well: A writer has to know their creations intimately; The characters are the writer after all, with bits bolted on. The bolt-ons are what the writer has explored to really bring the character to life. It just so happened that the one character of my making whom I could relate to the most, was a female.

I’m resolutely single for many reasons. I am very much in touch with my internal female anyway, so to have a female writing partner and soulmate… Well, it’s just perfect.