(This is presented with due homage to Chas Newkey-Burden and 14 Reasons Why You Shouldn’t Dream of Being a Fulltime Author The Telegraph Jan 4 2016, link below)
First off—don’t think I don’t agree with Chas, on all 14 points that challenge the 60% of Brits who in a recent poll said their dream job was an author (http://www.telegraph.co.uk/men/the-filter/11422473/14-reasons-why-you-shouldnt-dream-of-being-a-full-time-author.html ). He’s right—but then why are the 30% dreaming of being a Hollywood actor (they end up waiting tables or the few that make it, hiding from paparazzi, justifying whether they aged well (GO Carrie Fisher) and trekking to the divorce courts)? But here I encourage people to dream of being an author…even if part-time.
I dreamt about it for forty five years, and now it’s a reality I wouldn’t give it away for anything! So here’s why it is okay to dream:
- If you’re dreaming about the money then you don’t really want to be an author. It wasn’t money that had me write the first paragraph of about two hundred boarding schools stories and two lame teenage romances involving horses. (I was old enough at this stage to recognise that they were truly execrable). Nor was it money that made me write ten erotic romance suspense novels. On the other hand I didn’t ever expect to make money writing so I did the hard work and another job (which I have also been passionate about- though also an clinician, I am an academic which is the second top dream jobs in the UK sample so I guess I’m very lucky!!!) to support myself. So Chas is right—don’t think of it as being fulltime and have another job too. I’d add to that looking at some of my writer friends—don’t expect your partner to support you, and if they do, be REALLY grateful.
- The two I’s. Yes you do write alone, it is isolated existence at times—but if you have another job, depending on the job, you may crave solitude! And interruption? As an academic and planner—well, plan! Turn the phones off, find a friend with a remote house; I have a writer friend who borrows the cottage we write in (when we aren’t there), there are places like The Wheeler Centre that gives writers space, and some around the world give free or cheap accommodation and a sense of community to writers (Ireland and Italy for instance have these places). I think of Katherine Neville (The Eight) in her borrowed Tree House looking over the Californian coast to write her best seller and think how could anyone not write brilliance there! Hopefully my friend Sue’s house that inspired Dangerous to Know (and survived the recent fires) will have done the same for me!
- Nothing makes you happy about bookshops…mmm…tough one. Right of passage this one—but I can always be happy if they have a friend’s book in the absence of my own…and I always need something to read. My favourite bookshops didn’t have my book; King’s English (Salt Lake City, Utah) and a fabulous one in Asheville, Carolina (okay, to be fair mine hasn’t been released in the USA, but this is the sort of thing that can torment you…why hasn’t it been!). I recommend cognitive behavioural principles to tackle the problem…
- I’m not famous enough to have too many people inundating me with their ideas, but a few people have suggested their stories. It takes about a minute to think no, three to decide if they are psychotic, confabulating or making stuff up. But they’ll make a great characters one day…
- No, I am not as famous as my husband. But I am more famous than many…and I am published by a respected company (soon to be two with Legend in UK)!!! This still hasn’t lost its zing. And everyone else might not know the difference between a self published book and mine…but I do. The better you know yourself and manage your sensitivities, the easier this will be—and isn’t this life? I see plenty of people in my other job who struggle so it isn’t just writers.
- No team—well I’m lucky. See point one…I can afford secretarial support. But also I plan and discuss and edit with my husband—find a writer friend if your partner isn’t the right person.
- Oh well—be grateful for any, particularly the good ones and never read Goodreads and Amazon and you can’t go wrong.
- No I haven’t won a prize. Or had James Patterson to co-author a novel (GO Candice Fox!) but then I’m not Dean at Melbourne Uni either…
- Argh. See point 6. But on the other hand if you aren’t earning much then it won’t be much of a problem.
- The Royalty cheque…mine was one page, my husband’s basically a book. It was so ridiculous it was laughable, and I did. Authors need a sense of humour; where would we be without er…our second job. See point 1.
- Book launches—mine was great. Okay, I will probably never have another, but the first which I helped organise was brilliant. And I’ve heard of plenty of famous authors who sat alone at a signing so I never feel I have to worry—I presume I will be alone and anything else is a bonus! (Readers wandering into book shops, please smile at the anxious looking person at the table hiding behind a pile of books that will be returned to the publisher at the end of the day).
- When I wrote romance it was too erotic, but everyone read thrillers I was told…now I’m writing thrillers they’re too psychiatric/ too much sex/too little sex…but better they’ve read it or looked at it than it never being more than a blank page…
- The book not yours? Better a novel than a screenplay—you can at least self publish a book, and even with a mainstream publisher…it is your book, and they are a great team to support your vision as long as you aren’t too busy being a primadonna. Screenplays, even after paid for, can languish for years or eternity…and they can turn out totally different. You generally don’t have to take an editor’s advice—but that is their job and we all know famous authors whose later books are clearly unedited (because they knew “better”) and are the worse for it.
- Go crazy…well as a psychiatrist, physician heal thyself! And die? Definitely not via coffee, I’m more a Hemingway…but I have convinced my husband to not motivate himself with alcohol so things are looking up. And if you’ve just achieved a dream—remind yourself the dream was to be published, not have a best-seller/win the Booker etc which the dream has now morphed to.