I don’t mind being a writer. It's what I do — and that's a lucky position to be in. There are however few professions where the gulf between how civilians think is is, and the reality, is quite as wide. As a public service I’m therefore going to outline how a typical day in the life of an author works. But first…
WHAT PEOPLE THINK IT’S LIKE
I wake to the sound of my assistant standing outside the palatial bedroom suite, whispering the current bestseller positions of my most recently-published novel. By the time she reaches the news that it has held its #1 spot in Turkmenistan for yet another week — the same position it holds in the US and all of Europe and everywhere else — I am ready to greet the day. While I am in the shower the sound of the water drowns out some of the sales information about my backlist, but I am reassured by her frequent use of the word “unprecedented”.
Arrive at my desk at ten thirty sharp. Spend a while being updated by my agent on negotiations for the upcoming book contract, specifically the advance money on offer. He is concerned that conventional mathematics cannot readily cope with numbers this large. I suggest he gets in contact with Dr. Stephen Hawkings — he’s a fan — and see if he has any advice.
Work tirelessly for twenty minutes, in which ten thousand words of profound and moving prose drip from my fingers like nectar from a fecund bloom.
After a simple repast prepared by my personal chef, I spend an hour listening to my editor on the phone as she pleads that I not change a single word of the first draft of the novel I wrote yesterday: she insists that it is a thing of immaculate perfection, citing as evidence the fact that the head of the publishing company, upon reading it, “passed out with joy”. Reluctantly, I agree to leave it as it is.
Read over my morning’s work, and am astonished by how good it is. I am sufficiently accustomed to my own prose to avoid losing consciousness with delight, though when I appreciatively read aloud one especially good sentence, my assistant — who has been standing nearby, fanning me with a palm frond — keels over into the corner and remains insensate for an hour.
Spend the late afternoon choosing between cover quotes for the next novel. Decide against using the one from JK Rowling on the grounds it’s perhaps a little too gushing. Opt instead for the one that Ernest Hemingway insisted — unsolicited — on providing via a spirit medium.
After a light supper I attend a book-signing event for my current bestseller, exchanging cheerful waves with people waiting patiently in the seven-mile-long queue. After inscribing a little over a billion copies, I allow the grateful store owner to ply me with foie gras and Chateau d’Yquem, before being carried home in a chair by the last four winners of the Nobel Prize for Literature, who ask only for the opportunity to serve. The townsfolk doff their caps and bow as we pass. Only a cynic would put this down to the meteoric rise in house prices in the area since I moved in.
Because I am tireless, on my return I spend an hour dictating responses to fan mail. How bittersweet it is to reply to the one from President Obama, knowing that he may be the last president who knows how to read.
Retire contendly to bed. I drift off to sleep lulled by the distant sound of my assistant, who is now standing outside in the garden shouting the names of every A-list star who is desperate to appear in the avalanche of upcoming movie adaptations of my work. For all I know, this continues all night.
As opposed to…
Wake far too early with a howl of despair, remembering it’s my turn to do the school drop-off. Enjoy a tiny beat of relief on realizing at least that means it’s not a day I’m supposed to go running.
Lurch out of bed, putting foot in small but strategically-placed puddle of cat sick. Drink seven cups of tea. Wake child by hitting him rhythmically on the head for forty minutes with a brick. Haul him through process of dressing, eating breakfast, gathering school materials. Drive to school, late.
Visit Safeway on the way back, find self standing blearily in checkout line with a basket containing nothing but capers and jam. Have no idea why.
Approach desk with weary trepidation at 8:45. Ignore emails from just about everyone, as they involve hassling me over things I’m late on. Explain to the credit card company that when I said I'd be paying their bill today, I meant “today” in a metaphorical sense. Also “pay”.
Spend morning editing the previous day’s prose, wondering where on earth I got the idea I could write, and specifically why the fuck I thought this was a good idea for a short story, as it’s clearly a piece of worthless crap. Waste time on email instead. Notice that agent has started using quote marks whenever he refers to my "career".
Realize that child had clothes to wear, all the lights work, and the place is not a complete pig-sty. Assume all this has somehow been achieved or co-ordinated by spouse. Consider making mental note to thank spouse. Decide this constitutes extra writing, and will do later. Forget.
Eat hurried lunch of whatever looks least dangerous in the fridge. Spend afternoon wrestling with editor’s suggestions for draft sixteen of the current novel. Consider emailing explaining that her apparently simple and uncontroversial suggestions will actually provoke the irrevocable collapse of the book’s structure, but settle instead for spending two hours banging my face on the desk instead.
Enlivened by a mild concussion, have literally just hit my stride and am about to produce some real work when child arrives home from school, requiring immediate assistance with math homework that I don’t bloody understand. This takes approximately forever.
Drink a couple of moody beers on the porch afterward. Wonder if there is any other way I can earn a living. Conclude for the millionth time that the answer is no, especially after local circus issued a restraining order.
Cook dinner, an improvised pasta dish whose main ingredients are capers and jam.
After threats of physical violence fail, eventually get the child to go to bed before midnight by offering to give him fifty dollars tomorrow. Hope he doesn’t start comparing notes with the credit card company.
Go to bed. Sleep fitfully. Dream of supportively attending the launch for a friend’s new book, to find myself joining the back of a line that is seven miles long.