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Why writing is a better hobby than dentistry

In her book The Sum of Our Days Isabel Allende tells how she’s often asked at cocktail parties what she does. When she responds that she’s a novelist, most people’s first reaction is to say 'I’ve always wanted to write a novel. Perhaps when I retire and have more time I’ll do just that.'

And her response is always the same, 'You said you were a dentist? That’s interesting. Maybe when I retire I’ll start pulling teeth.” Not the most gracious of responses but it does make me laugh.

I know the point she is trying to make. Just in the same way that you wouldn’t expect a dentist to pull out your teeth without any kind of training, most novelists also take the craft of writing very seriously. They read voraciously to learn the techniques of others and then spend time practicing those techniques themselves.

But I think Allende is wrong to rebuff people like this. Whilst most people, I hope, don’t think pulling teeth is a fun hobby, there is something utterly joyful about the act of creative writing. So it is worth doing even if it’s not your day job. And perhaps not everyone has the skill with a drill that you expect of your dentist, but everyone has a great story to tell. They sometimes just need a little help getting started telling it.

When I was writing my first novel Dancing with Statues I attended numerous writing courses in my spare time and they really helped to open my mind to the possibilities of writing. Of course, no amount of class time can replace the need to simply show up and do the actual work. And some days that work does feel like pulling out my own teeth.

But on the days that the words flow, it’s joyous.

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