Tuesday, 11 January 2011

Work, Work, Busy, Busy


Whenever I tell anyone what I do for a living I'm often met by oohs and aahs, swiftly followed by a
'I would love to be a writer.'
Interestingly, this wasn't a frequent response when I was a lawyer...
At first I thought that this expression of a fervent desire to write was simply because the majority of folk secretly did want to do it.
After all, hadn't I jumped at the chance?
And indeed, for those of you out there who do want to make a career of writing. I mean really want it. Then my advice is simple. Keep doing what you are already doing, plugging away, chip, chip, chip. Your time for success could be just around the corner. I know it doesn't always feel that way, but take heart from what happened to me, because I'm just an ordinary woman, certainly no genius, and without any inside knowledge or contacts to help me along.
Actually, it makes me furious when I hear this oft bandied piece of rubbish: that you have to be famous or have the right contacts to get an agent or a publishing contract.
Sure, it helps if you happen to be a Hollywood actress, but let's be very clear about this, most of us authors are cheerful nobodies. And we like it that way.
So, if you're using this particular excuse to avoid subbing your work, fine. Just be clear that it is an excuse.
Anyway, back to my point that everyone wants to be a writer.
Well, actually, I have, over time, come to the conclusion that it just aint so. Yes, there are reams of people out there who harbour the dream of walking into Waterstones and seeing their name on the spine of a bestseller.
They can imagine themselves receiving news of their shortlisting for the Booker, maybe they're in their funkily untidy study at the time, replying to fan mail.
This however, is no more a real desire than me wanting to be a size zero. The mind can imagine the little red dress, but is the mouth gonna stop chewing? Don't be daft.
There are unpalatable truths to anything and writing is no different.
First, you're probably going to have to write and do the day job.
The dreamer sees empty months and years before him, allowing his muse to strike. The reality is that no-one gives up proper paying employment until a decent advance comes in.
I wrote my first book while working as a lawyer. I snatched lunchbreaks and evenings when the kids were in bed.
I was lucky to sell that book. Most don't and will have to keep on keeping on for another two, perhaps three unsold books.
Second, you probably won't ever make enough money to give up the day job. Most writers don't. And those of us that do, well that leads me to...
Point three, we have to write a hell of a lot and we have to write to dealines. Not for nothing does a good friend call me 'the word factory'. I write and fully edit a book a year, whilst promoting the previous one. It is graft.
Now, I'm not complaining. I love my life.
But, as the saying goes, it is what it is. Now if you're still along for the ride...get working.

13 comments:

Caroline Green said...

Ah, I'm such a fan of that 'Oh I'D like to write a book...I just don;t have time,' line. Because I have time coming out of my ears!

Good post Helen.

Helen Black said...

Yep - I feel like saying, ah yes, I started writing because I really really had nothing to do that day.
HB x

Karen said...

Very wise words. If I had a fiver for everyone I've heard say, "I'm hoping to write a book one day" (usually when they've retired) I'd definitely be able to give up the day job!

Emma Darwin said...

Great post, Helen.

Rosy T said...

Couldn't agree more with all of this, Helen. People imagine it's all sitting in cyber cafes with a large latte and a laptop and gazing into the distance dreamily. In fact, it's dragging yourself out of bed at 5.30am to squeeze in an hour or two of writing before the kids get up - and half of that is probably deleting the rubbish you wrote yesterday...

Rebecca Connell said...

Good post. It annoys me too! Last time someone told me how much they wanted to write a book I had to restrain myself from saying, "don't bother, it would probably be rubbish" ;-)

Anonymous said...

I think it's easy to forget, though, that to someone who's never written a novel, it's a colossal thing. You and i both realize it's a process, adding paragraphs to form a scene, adding scenes to form a chapter, little by little, day by day. To the layman writing a novel is mega; it's daunting.

When someone says to me they'd love to write a novel, i tell them they should give it a go, they might surprise themselves. Afterall, there is nothing special about us.

Sam

Emma Darwin said...

When people say to me, "Oh, I'd love to write a book," I say, "Great. A page a day is a first draft in year. Go for it."

99 out of a 100 move away sharpish muttering something about getting themselves another drink, 1 in 100's face lights up as if I've just said that the mountain's only a hill, and asks more, and then I know they just might be a writer-in-the-making.

Anonymous said...

I'm shocked, Emma. Ye who is so encouraging once people have decided to write!

Guess you've come across this comment a lot more than me, though.

Helen Black said...

The thing for me is to always give genuine encouragement to those who really want to and mean to write.

And I always role out the story of how I got started, because I don't want anyone to feel that writing is only for a certain type of person. Or that you need qualifications coming out of your ears.

But I can now sniff out the ones who have no intention of putting the graft in.
HB x

Caroline Rance said...

Great post, Helen!

In my experience, people who genuinely want to write a book are already writing it, so instead of a bombastic 'I'd love to write a book one day!' they start with 'Oh, wow, what kind of thing do you write?' then eventually move on to: 'I'm sort of trying to write a book too...'

This usually means they've got three novels under the bed and a new 100,000 words that are a million times better than anything I've ever done!

Christine said...

Most have no idea how many long months and years of solitary confinement it takes.

Jane Lovering said...

I've always assumed people say that they want to write a book simply because they think it's all sitting down and regurgitating plots from already-written novels. If they realised one tenth of how hard it can be, they'd decide to go and alligator wrestle instead.

And I used to get that 'if only I had the time' line too. Until I told them I wrote my first book as a single mum to five kids under ten. THAT shuts 'em up.