Thursday, 14 July 2016


Imagine for a moment that you want to build a building - one you believe people need and hope people will want and make use of.

You know how you want it to look and what functions it should serve, and because you are the only person who knows this information you are the person who has to design and build this building. So you gather up the appropriate tools and set to work.

It's a long, hard job. Some parts require skills you don't yet have, so you have to learn on the job how to do it right. Sometimes it rains or snows, so that working on the building is uncomfortable and miserable. Sometimes delays happen. And then there are those times where you realise your foundations are wonky, or that supporting wall you put in aint gonna support anything, so you have to tear a whole chunk down and start over again from scratch. But still you keep going, because you believe in this building...

Even if lots of other people don't. You don't talk about your building with anyone except maybe a trusted few, because something about telling people you're a builder who's making a building has them doing That Look at you. The one that makes you suspect they think you're a delusional fool, being so self-indulgent and arrogant as to think you could build a building anyone would want to use. How dare you give yourself such airs and graces! Get back in the real world, you loser! So you keep your work secret, knowing that the only way you could ever change their minds is to build something so magnificent it makes the Sagrada Familia look like a garden shed. And you're not sure yet if you can even aspire to garden shed.

Every so often a building inspector comes around to give your building the once-over - and every time he does he finds massive faults. This bit doesn't conform to building regulations, that part there just doesn't look right... you agonise over whether to start the whole thing over again or just plaster over the faults and hope they won't be noticed when the building is complete.

Either way, you soldier on. Gradually your building begins to take shape. Yess! you think to yourself, it's finally starting to come together now. Feeling like a proper builder at last, you grab a refreshing beverage with a bunch of other builders in your local watering hole and swap building stories. And there's a distinct theme to all of theirs. "Oh yeah, my first building was shit - I ended up demolishing the thing in the end..." "Yeah, mine too - it's still sitting out there somewhere, abandoned and rotting..." "'Course we all know now that's because everyone's first building is shit..." "Yeah, no-one ever wants your first building - or your second or third a lot of the time..." "Tell me about it - I had to build ten buildings before I built one anyone actually wanted...!"

Of the entire group, you are the only one who desperately hopes they're wrong. Who hopes that they were just the unlucky ones, and everyone else has more success sooner. Except there's a whole bunch of them and only one of you, so you already know arguing with them is going to make you look, at best, naive and, at worst, arrogant and delusional. So you sit there in silence and nod along, while a picture of your beloved building-in-progress hovers in your mind, like a child waiting for its parent to tell him he is loved and special, no matter what everyone else says...

Now imagine repeating that whole cycle, over and over, perhaps until you die.

Welcome to the Writer's Life.

Writing is a creative art. And in today's social media-obsessed society, where fame and fortune is the new religion, people often see the creative arts as the 'quick' and 'easy' way to achieve that fame and fortune, because anything that people often do for fun and as a hobby must be easy, right? How many people whose singing ability could at best be described as 'can sing in tune without going purple in the face from lack of breath on the long notes' genuinely - without a trace of irony - rate themselves 'as good as' or 'better than' the likes of Adele, Lady Gaga and Beyonce? Loads of them. They genuinely believe it too; take the old Autotune away from all those global superstars (because they're convinced said superstars must be using that) and hell yeah, they could give those upstart divas a run for their money in a sing-off!

But here's the thing the wannabes forget; the genuine stars didn't get there on just talent alone. They got there through hard work, determination and continuing to show up and bring their A-game every single time, even when it wasn't fun.

Look at The X-Factor. Every year, thousands and thousands of hopefuls are sieved down to about fifty that get to appear on the telly as part of the auditioning process. Those fifty-odd are then ruthlessly chopped to a small handful, who are then even more ruthlessly Hunger-Gamed down over a series of weeks to a Top Four, from whom one is selected as the overall winner. With a culling process that long and calculated, you'd think a glittering music career was more or less guaranteed for the one that comes out on top. If the public believed in them that much, they must be superstar material, surely?

So why is it that, in the ten years of the show running, only a few of the 'winners' have gone on to fame and fortune? And why have other contestants who only came runner-up or didn't even make the finals done way better than the 'winners' they lost to (i.e. Olly Murs and One Direction, to name but two?)

Because wanting the fame and fortune isn't enough. The 'winners' that crashed and burned did so because when the rush of winning was over, all they saw ahead of them was the years of long, hard slog to stay at the top of the heap - and that didn't look nearly as much fun as the comparatively short space of time duking it out on a reality TV show. If dreaming of the fame and fortune is the only thing that keeps you going through the day-to-day grind of doing your creative thing as a job, at the metaphorical coalface... well, that won't sustain you for long. There's nothing wrong with keeping your eye on the prize - but you need to want to keep running toward it anyway, no matter how far away it appears to be. Even - heck, especially - if you suspect you might never win it at all.

That's how a writer has to feel about writing to make it as a writer. Fame and fortune can only ever be a desirable but by-no-means-guaranteed cherry on the cake, not the cake itself. Sure ,there are a metric tonne of books out there with titles like "How to Make Millions Writing Bestselling Novels in 30 Days." They probably do make a fair bit of money for their authors - but not because the advice in them is any good. It's simply because they're selling a dream that so many people want to believe in - the dream that you can make money and become famous by doing something that never feels like hard work.

Writing is hard work. Even when you're writing something you love and truly believe in, there will be days when showing up to write it is the last thing on earth you feel like doing. There will be days when you doubt any human will ever want to read a word you write and you've probably wasted months, if not years of your life on it already. And yes, there will be days when you see a seven-page-long, hideously-written abomination calling itself a 'novel' has apparently made the Amazon Bestseller list and sold 200 copies at $35 dollars a pop, while your latest submission that you spent months getting right has been rejected by ten publishers in a row.

And when those things happen, there's only one thing to do. Pick yourself up and keep on writing - because, as with breathing, giving up isn't even an option.

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