Thursday, November 21, 2013

The clothes maketh the writer

Yesterday morning, I was accosted by a mother in the playground, asking for help with the PTA Christmas Fair. "I'm trying to ask people who don't have a job," she said to me, and from the way she immediately backed off, it was clear that my expression must have been pretty murderous. It was just as well, before she got the tirade that was me asking her just what part of writing novels, stories, articles and cartoons under three names, selling them and promoting them, and running my own creative writing tutoring business was NOT HAVING A JOB.

Then I looked at myself. I was wearing sweatpants with holes in them, dirty trainers, and a hat to cover my unbrushed hair. I had no makeup on and under my coat, I was wearing my pyjama top. (Unlike Susanna Kearsley, I do not get dressed to take my kid to school.) I looked like someone who was going to go straight back home and go to bed—which, to be fair, was exactly what I did do, although I then proceeded to write 3000 words in that same bed. Compared to the other parents, many of whom looked very smart, and most of whom had actually bothered to get themselves dressed, I looked like someone who really did have a LOT of time to help out with the PTA Christmas Fair, and would be glad of the chance of something productive to do to get me out of the clutches of daytime telly, thank you very much.

I dress up for parties and for meetings and conferences, to teach and to appear on television or even on the radio, but I don't dress up to write. I wear old jumpers and socks with holes in them, worn slippers and pencils in my hair to keep it out of my eyes.

Ralph Keyes, in THE COURAGE TO WRITE (one of my favourite writing books), looks at the dressing or non-dressing habits of successful writers. Keats, for example, did not like to write until he had on a clean shirt and had 'adonised' himself. Disreali wrote in evening clothes. John Cheever, on the other hand, put on a clean suit every morning, went to his writing room, and then took it off so he could write in his underwear. Victor Hugo forbade his valet to allow him any clothes until he'd achieved his word count for the day.

Keyes suggests that clothing rituals are like writers' other rituals, designed to keep The Fear at bay. Personally, I think my habitual writing state of deshabille is down to my being lazy, but maybe it's a form of discipline: I can't go to another parent's house for a cup of tea, or nip into town to do some shopping, or indeed help out with the PTA if I'm still basically in my pyjamas. All I'm really dressed to do is to sleep, or to write, so I'm not tempted to do anything else.

Or maybe it's just being lazy.

What about you? What do you wear on your writing days?

1 comment:

  1. I'm like you - baggy track suit trousers, old T-shirt and cardigan with holes in it. If I'm not comfortable, I can't write because I feel restricted. And if I'm not going anywhere, no makeup either. I don't think it's laziness, it's just not wanting to be distracted by constrictive clothing. And because I have back problems, I sometimes sit in very weird positions which I couldn't do in 'proper' clothes. You should have told that woman that writing IS having a job though, she needs to know :-)