Much has been said about JK Rowling’s life before she found fame and success. Indeed, among us writers, she is a beacon of hope in a profession that attracts so many aspirants but delivers so few success stories. However, the reality of life as a writer can be as varied as the books we all try to write because for the great majority, it involves juggling a full-time job while squirrelling away the odd hour here and there to put pen to paper or in today’s world, hands to keyboard.
I’m privileged in that I have a good 4 hours to coax the words out of my system with daily. But because I have other day-to-day commitments as a wife and mother, I can’t do a Jack Kerouac or Stephen King and pull an all-nighter. Even for someone like me, for whom time seems to be a virtual reservoir filled to the brim, there are just so many hours with which I can craft my stories. Some days the words come gushing out and I can get 2000 words down in under 3 hours, other days they trickle out one by one and even 600 is a feat to rival climbing Everest. Just getting those words out is only half the job, for you can put in a full 8 hours lovingly moulding words yet walk away from your desk feeling dissatisfied.
It is my observation that while everyone has a story, not everyone should tell theirs for many are akin to the multitude of drunk middle-age men caterwauling at Karaoke bars across Asia. I’m sorry but it’s true. Unless you are Pamela Anderson with over-sized watermelons or someone whose grandmother slept with one of the forty-four Presidents of the United States, you’ll have to be a damn good assessor of ability to get anywhere with this. I know you’ll say I’m one to talk when I haven’t been published but there have been countless occasions when I’ve picked up a book and thought, “I can never write that.”
It’s nothing to do with having a low-morale or self-esteem. It’s about conserving your most important resource for the jobs that are do-able: time. As I’ve said, there isn’t a whole lot of it and you’ll feel like you’ve run a marathon by the time you are done with a single day’s worth of writing. Then again, if you’re meant to do this, you’ll want to do it over and over.
Back to my earlier analogy of singing. Just because we all can sing, doesn’t mean we should be breaking the window panes with our voices. Many famous people who have books to their name have ghost writers to do the work for them. How do you think they manage to juggle so many jobs with the number of hours you and I have in a day?
Writing is also not the kind of job where you can expect to get a regular pay-check, unless you are one of those in-demand feature writers who’s made a name for yourself. Even then, you probably have a second job teaching the craft of writing somewhere. There’s this lady I know from school who’s spent 25 years in the business, yet still dreams of finding the time to write her first novel. She writes for magazines to pay the bills for she knows her work will be published even before she’s submitted it. With novels, you have no such guarantee. No one is going to pay you an advance on something you haven’t written if you don’t have a name for yourself.
Those debut novels you see in store are rarely the first books of their authors. They may be the first of their author’s works to see print, but they aren’t usually the first written. Don’t let me discourage you from churning out that best-seller, but most first books are junk which end up in drawers, written off as writing practise. They’re hours of your life used to line the cat’s litter tray. Like any sort of activity worth pursuing, you only get good by working at it.
I don’t mean the odd grammatically disjointed scribble here and there. You have to write whole pages, many of them, day after day, preferably at the same time of the day so that your brain adjusts itself to the idea of your writing and helps you along with the exercise. Set yourself goals, targets. Read how-to books and take writing classes if need be; if you’re good, they’ll make you better, if you’re crap, it’ll give you a glimmer of a hope of being understood by your audience.
Bear in mind that these editors who decide the fate of your many hours of labour, while undoubtedly human, are not your friends. They’re not compelled in any way to overlook spelling errors, dysfunctional grammar, faulty syntax or a raft of other “innocent” mistakes. They’re just doing their jobs and so you have to do yours. They receive thousands of submissions a year, each proposal promising a potential masterpiece, so at the first sign of a loose thread, they’ll toss a manuscript back into its return envelope.
By all means, commune with other writers. They’ll be able to tell you when a writer’s event is on or which organisation has resources to help further your career. Writing, being a solitary undertaking, also means that any networking you do, will count towards getting your daily quota of outside inspiration. As deliriously wonderful as words are, you need things in your life other than writing. You need hobbies, friends and activities to write about.
Nicholas Sparks will tell you that he wrote “The Notebook” while holding down a day job. Of course, he’s also a man who has a wife to take care of the house and run after kids, but you get what I’m saying. You can write so long as you have the will and the way to juggle all the other components that make up your life. If you don’t try, then as someone with a story to tell, being an author will continue to be a dream that haunts your waking hours.