It's funny how the idea for a blog post develops. Last time I mentioned how, if I were an agent, I might bin a submission because the writer had the same name as an ex-boyfriend. So that got me thinking about crappy ex-boyfriends, and that made me remember the time one of them informed me “you just haven't got the guts and determination to become a professional actress.”
This pronouncement could have been hideously wounding. In fact, it probably would have been, if I'd ever harboured the remotest desire to be a professional actress.
I quite liked amateur dramatics. I'd go in for one or two plays a year, and even “starred” in a soap opera on the university radio station. But that was about it. I had no hankering after Hollywood or the RSC. Neither have plenty of other people involved with theatre clubs. To most outside observers (dickweed boyfriends excepted) am-dram is an acceptable hobby, both for those who are brilliant at it and those who, frankly, aren't.
The same doesn't seem to be true of writing. The moment you blushingly admit that you enjoy penning the occasional short story ... or worse, that you're a member of a writers' group ... or far, far worse, that you've got the nerve to be working on a novel, it's pressure time:
So, have you had anything published?
Oh. Well, d'you think you'll try and get published?
So, you're going to be the next J.K. Rowling, eh?
Mind you, it's very difficult to be a writer, love. You have to be really good to get published. Don't get your hopes up, will you?
It's all right to take part in a local panto without everyone thinking you fancy yourself as Nicole Kidman. You can sing along to Abba in the car, and people don't start smirking about how you haven't got a record deal. You can enjoy a round of golf without anyone adopting a serious expression and saying “What makes you think you're as good as Tiger Woods?”
Writing is different. Increasingly, there's a sense that it's not an interest but an ambition; something not worth doing unless publication – and preferably mega-deal publication with a major publisher – is within reach. Both on and offline, I'm noticing more and more people saying they'd like to have a go at writing, but they're not sure if there is much point when there's no guarantee of success.
Arguably some of those people don't really want to write, in which case, fine – there's no law that says they have to. To the genuine but uncertain ones, however, I say it is worth trying – very much worth trying – for its own sake, not because of what the future might hold.
If writing proves a source of strange inner excitement, if it plunges you into a different existence, if your characters become more real than the shop customers or office boss you have to deal with every day, then it's worth doing. If it makes you look at the red clock-numbers at 3:56am and smile because there are still two whole hours of thinking-time left, if it makes you look forward to getting back to it, if it's the only chance you've ever had to create something that no one else can control, then it's worth the effort. If it makes you feel as though you've said something, when everyone always thought you had nothing to say, then yes, it's worth it. And, even though it would be more highbrow of me to lament that writing is agony, actually, a lot of the time it's very good fun.
So, to any potential new writers who have stumbled on this blog looking for info on whether there's any point: yes there is! Give it a try. Don't be deterred just because someone (a dur-brained soon-to-be-ex, for example) has made you feel that anything short of JKR fame isn't good enough.
(Thank you to Adam Ciesielski for the photo.)