In the latest in our series about the Seven Deadly Sins, Antonia Honeywell explains the truth that lies behind many writers’ flirtation with Greed – and why we need sympathy not condemnation for our occasional lapses.
Antonia’s highly acclaimed debut novel The Ship (Weidenfeld and Nicolson) is now available in paperback.
The Seven Deadly Sins – Greed
Greed is the sin it’s easiest to despise. It’s completely focused on self-gratification, usually at the expense of others. You eat every biscuit in the packet, leaving none for anyone else. You won’t lend books, despite having more than you’ll ever read. You sit with your head in your laptop, heedless as your children cry for bread… If only those lofty despisers, who catch a glimpse of the empty biscuit packets and sneer, could see that greed has nothing to do with pleasure and everything to do with fear.
When I open the biscuits and keep eating one more and one more, it’s not because I love biscuits. It’s because I want to postpone the moment when I have to get on with whatever I’ve got to do next. The world’s not always fair and it’s not always kind. When it is, I don’t need the biscuits. I look at the packet with disdain and congratulate myself on my restraint. But when things are going badly, I often end up achieving very little and feeling slightly sick with no appetite for the healthy, nutritious meal I’ve cooked for everyone else.
Or take my best friend’s bookshelves, groaning with more books than she’ll ever be able to read, constantly buying more, and yet pathologically incapable of lending them. She’s afraid too – afraid that she’ll miss that life-affirming, unrivalled thrill of falling headlong into the right book at the right time.
Right now I’m greedy for time. More time, to get the words exactly right, to say exactly what I’m trying to say. However much time I manage to snatch, steal or beg from my other commitments, it’s never enough. It can’t be, because the very nature of wanting requires that there be something unfulfilled. And if I’ve learned anything in the year since The Ship was published, it’s this – the greed of a writer never goes away. I’ve spoken to debut authors who’ve won awards and whose second novels are imminent, only to learn that they’re as restless as I am and still wanting more. I’ve interviewed successful authors with long, enviable careers, only to hear that they’re still climbing, regardless of the scaled peaks behind them. I’ve learned this -if we had our every writerly desire fulfilled, there’d be very little point in continuing to write.
Writerly greed can be good, as long as it’s keeping you writing and striving for better. But greed can also be a thief, a procrastinator and a liar. If your greed begins to stifle you, put your writing aside. Go for a walk, meet a friend, play a game of snakes and ladders with some children or watch a film. And if greed begins to blind you to what you’ve achieved so far, step away. Take a look at the long road you’ve already walked and be a little kinder to yourself.