1: So you want to be a fiction writer? Think very carefully.
Because I did, I gave up my job. I had a good job, well paid – I was a High School Teacher – ‘madness’ I hear you say as you shake your head from side to side, like watching two naked male tennis players. If that is you, taking risks like being a full time writer is not for you, and you need not read any further – Your work here is done. If you want it to be, there is another route for you, which I will come to later.
Surely you don’t just give your job up and expect to make a living from fiction writing? If you worked 55-60 hours every week and some of holidays in a demanding job that you physically and emotionally gave your whole to – You sometimes have to take the plunge right into the deep end. I have always written when I could, instead of watching crappy tele; that is when life’s laundry is not turning you around and around and around. I wrote my first book in 1997 and a major publishing house was very keen on it. When I say keen, it got to the last meeting before they decided, “It is not different enough for a first time novelist.” It was a very rough and ready draft that I just sent off speculatively – then no interest from any others. So I knew I could do it, if I had the time to dedicate to ‘the craft.’
So a decision had to be made, do you wait until you get a massive chunk of time, because don’t kid yourself, that’s what you need. There is only ever going to be two big chunks of time; if you lose your job, and are not spending every waking hour finding a new one, or when you retire, and by then it’s too late. There are always exceptions to the rule – Frank McCourt is the only one I can think of. Someone said William Burroughs was really old, he was 40. You could argue the likes of George Elliot (40) and Marquis de Sade (47), were, because of the time they lived, and the life expectancy… So if you want to go for it, you need some ‘time’ to do it.
I gave myself a year to produce 4 completed and self-published novels! FOUR, not as crazy as it sounds. I had two not far off and one I had published under another name to re-edit and reissue, and then I was going to write another one from scratch. This is where the experience of ‘doing’ comes in. Everything, absolutely everything, takes at least twice as long as you think. What have I managed, two, about to be three and the second draft of a fourth (you will need at least 4 drafts, or 17 if you are Geoffrey Archer!) So when people say, ‘Are just having a bit of a break?’ It is not as demandingly physical as my old job, but when you have a critical devil and creative angel constantly duelling behind your back, that often spills over into your brain. It is easy to see why Hemingway said, “There is nothing to writing. You just sit at your type-writer and bleed.” I never understood why some writers are sooo tortured, I do now. Or another way of looking at it, ‘here’s an empty book with 300 pages in – fill it with words, ideas, characters and plot that some other people might want to read!’ Still want to write a novel/novels? Here’s another depressing one: To become good writer you need to write about one million words! Yes, one million, and I am not talking the lines you did in detention in school, although you learnt something quite valuable that day. I used to think that was rubbish, and just rhetoric put about by older grizzled writers – one million is the bare minimum. I have finished two novels and thrown them away, just kept the main idea, Iris Murdoch was right when she said, “Every book is the wreck of a perfect idea.”
Money: Don’t expect to make any, if you do, cartwheel through your City centre dressed as a superhereo and have a party when you come to rest. (I have kept my first cheque – £1.87!) Ok, you’ve seen the exceptions to the rule; Rowling, King, a few chick-lit and thriller writers, but these are by far the exception. I set myself the goal of making the national average UK wage (£26.5K or $43.5K) after three years. I have my hands pressed together, but am not expecting a miracle! Forget about minimum wage, that’s for conventional well-defined toilers, not for writers, or hardly anyone in the arts….
So do you still want to be a writer? – Hold your novel in your hand, smell it, feel it next to your skin, go to bed with it, have it placed next to you in your coffin? …Well you might just have the dedication and drive to do it… might!
Next week I will be talking about: Why even bother to write? A lot of pain, for very little gain.