Tuesday, 27 December 2016

Two Magic Words

Sometimes we have to draw a line in the sand - with a pen.
When people learn - because I'm not exactly shy about it now - that I'm a writer the conversation usually goes one of two ways. 

1. They ask, directly or obliquely, how much money I make from books and freelancing.
2. They look for tips about how to start, how to continue, and how to get to the point where they can answer question one about themselves.

I still find it odd that people need to know about the money, in a way that doesn't apply to any other profession. "So, tell me, how much does a plumber / club singer / courier / midwife / potter make these days?" I think it's driven by a mixture of curiosity and hope. We, all of us, apparently have a book in us. Small wonder that we might want to know its probable value before we commit ourselves to the task. Similarly, for those who are already writers, whether published or not, there's a yearning to know that we will - like the good characters in the stories we grew up with - get our just reward in the end. The truth is much more fluid than that, depending upon the writing, timing, luck, the market, and other factors. 

As to the second question, I could point you towards several leading lights in fiction and non-fiction who may help you on the path. Sinclair Macleod, Sue Louineau, Villayat Sunkmanitu  and Rebsie Fairholm all gave me valuable insights about self-publishing. Some of the many agents (especially Andrew Lownie) and publishers who rejected my submissions also gave the odd hint about how to do it better the next time. Jane Pollard taught me a great deal about structure and depth. When it comes to non-fiction I am indebted, latterly, to Jon Morrow, Sophie Lizard, Mridu Khullar Relph and Carol Tice. None of this is news to anyone who reads this blog regularly.

However, I have picked up one tip along the way that makes a HUGE difference to every writer. It's not foolproof but, statistically speaking, it makes the greatest impact to improving your chances as a writer. Best of all, it's only two words (initially...). Ready?

Do something.

Start the page. End the paragraph. Finish the paragraph. Complete the novel. Endure the first edit (and all the others). Submit the work. Pitch. Adapt. Improve. Promote. Hustle, if that's your thing. Run a promotional campaign. Plan a strategy. Act on impulse. Write to other writers. Contact the TV folk. Sell yourself on radio. 

Or...do nothing. It might be safer, less disappointing, cheaper on stamps, and easier to bear. You can tell yourself that you could have written a brilliant book, or that just so far is far enough. That could be true for you, in which case best move along here because I can only offer you one promise: If you do something that means something will have changed. And who knows where that might lead?!

It might be fame, it might be fortune, it might be a four-figure tax bill, it might be the realisation that your novel is too far ahead of its time (in which case why not write something different while you're waiting for the world to catch up?). 

If you want to write you could turn out to be a journalist, blogger, poet, playwright, short storyist (yep, made that one up!), diarist, novelist, songwriter or penner of greetings cards. Give yourself over to the words and they will, at the very least, give you greater personal insight and may very well provide you with an adventure on and off the page. 

At this time of year we generally promise ourselves to step up a gear come January 1st. Gym membership, new journal, new project. Why wait? Do something.


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