Living the Chinese Curse

 In Influences, Writing

It’s probably all Mark Twain’s fault. I expect he started it. Or maybe Charles Dickens. I can be sure it was a bloke: more freedom of movement and so on in the early days of novelists. It hasn’t changed either. Neil Gaiman, for one, keeps the modern standard pretty darn high.

They are all to blame for the need a writer has to lead an interesting life. It’s a Chinese curse, apparently: “May you lead an interesting life.”

It goes hand-in-glove with the supposition that you must write what you know. (Something no one told Shakespeare, by the way, or else he’d never of dared to write about ancient Roman Emperors or wizards causing shipwrecks.)

This is why writers feel the need to list all the wacky jobs they’ve had before they managed to write full time. It’s like actors needing to talk about their time clearing tables: it proves you came from the bottom up, not born fully fledged like an Athena out of Zeus’ brain.

So, for the record, here are some of mine in no particular order:

  • Rock-wall climbing coach
  • Chief fairy for girls’ birthday parties
  • Van de Graaff generator operator (the one the makes your hair stand on end)
  • Jam donut filler and seller
  • Baileys liqueur taster

I was paid to do all of these save the one where I sent electricity through people for fun. That was as a volunteer at a science discovery centre.

None of those particularly helped my writing. Other than actually putting words down on paper again and again, it’s been career work that has made the difference. Things like:

  • Talking to people about what they love to do and how it could be better
  • Being a breakfast speaker (before others have their coffee)
  • Running branding workshops for lawyers and engineers
  • Writing proposals and reports
  • Researching and cross-checking known facts

There isn’t much of a Wow Factor for the second list. I’m not going to be putting those in an Author Bio any time soon.

Outside of earning a living, I do think it’s important to have an open mind about trying new things. I want my characters to grow and change, so it would be unreasonable for me not to do the same. This is part of the reason my husband and I have moved back to Europe from Australia. We’re still living the Chinese curse!

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