Friday, 2 October 2009

Writers don't get sick. We get busier.

Many years ago when I was in one of the many phases when I was looking to take on an outside job to support my writing addiction I was asked in an interview how many days sick I took in a year.

I think even then it was a dodgy question, but at the time I didn't blink. I looked the interviewer straight in the eye and said, 'I'm self-employed. I don't get to be sick.' Needless to say I got the job, which I stayed in for eighteen months until it became clear that although I frequently found myself in situations stranger than fiction I didn't have the time or energy to create any, so I left to go back to my real job.

Today, although the children frequently try to challenge this I write full time. I may not work office hours, but generally I put in more time during the week than I would do if I was a wage-slave. I have, as they worryingly keep saying on the news, underlying health issues, but I work around these. However, last week I discovered I am not proof against parent targeted viruses.

The Panda, now eighteen months, and occasionally condescending to grace a local creche with his presence, has gone into that phase that all parents dread when he is catching every cold and illness known to mankind in a self-determined programme to build his immune system. Everything he catches he bounces back from - he is the original Bounce Back Bear, but everything he catches he also generously passes on to me. And last week he gave me gastroenteritis of a form and a variety that would be classified by the censors as too terrible for viewing even in the worst of horror movies. Not, you understand, that he had it that badly, that was me. I don't think my head actually turned through 360 degrees, but I can't be sure.

So for the first time in forever I've taken a week off. A week because once I succumbed to this illness several others, who had been waiting for me weaken, leapt upon me like a lion on straggler of the pack.

But writers, like any self-employed person, can't get sick. It's not in the job description.

But I'd been working too hard and once down I was out for the count. What has really startled me is coming back to my desk today is to find that I can still make all my deadlines. It seems some skills once learned are never lost.

In the almost forgotten past when there were no mobile phones, I was a commissioning journalist and it seems that the art of defining deadlines has stayed with me. I'll let you in on my secret.

I quote long and deliver early.

I also, like most writers, work very hard. My long deadlines are often seen as short by editors.

Nothing short of total incapacity will stop me from delivering. I was still doing business emails from my bed on my iphone despite an inability to lift my head off the pillow.

So coming back to my desk today I have lots to do, but akin to the refrain of Panda's current favourite tv show I will be managing to get the job done.


Nicola Morgan said...

Ugh, poor you with the latest foul bug - one day, Panda may think of apologising!

Funny thoug, your tactic for always meeting deadlines despite illness is the same as half of mine - you say you quote long and deliver early. I do that but i also set myself an artifical deadline. (You prob do the same, knowing you...) In other words, if the deadline is actually Nov 1st, I mentally set myself at least a week before that as the deadline (or more, if it was longer in the first place - so a 9 month deadline would get a month lopped off it, eg). That way I have a built in safety net for illness or anything else that throws everything into chaos.

I also think that if you are focused on meeting deadlines, it is amazing how much a self-employed person can fit in, by using odd bits of a day that office-based people wouldn't use. ALSO, I am a firm believer in the "ask a busy person" adage.

Not sure if this is what my blog piece re illness is going to be about though. Was thinking of different angle. I haven't thought much yet though.

Hope you are feeling better. nx

Caroline Dunford said...

Hi Nicky, I think we're describing doing much the same thing, but we're conceptualising it slightly differently.

I totally agree about self-employed people fitting things in. I was finishing the draft of a play last night at midnight and today between meetings a quick solo hot chocolate in a coffeeshop allowed me to put the finishing touches. It's amazing how much time you can find it you use all the corners.