They reckon every person has at least one novel in them. Even if this is true, many (or perhaps most) of us choose never to write that novel. We think our story will be boring or hackneyed. Maybe we struggle to put our thoughts into words on the paper or screen. Maybe we prefer to leave our own private novel in our heads. Or maybe, we will only write it when the technology exists to instantly turn it into a massive blockbuster movie. With cool special effects. That haven’t been invented yet.
For me, I’ve always had a novel in me. Sometimes more than one. Sometimes several at once. All crying for attention and vying for space. I was suffering a little like Maya Angelou, who said, “There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.”
And so, to alleviate the agony, I wrote them down. I’ve always been a scribbler, for as long as I can remember. But I’m now in my early forties, and I still don’t have a whole book out there in the world. What happened to those past forty years? Why did my poor manuscripts gather dust in the bottom of a drawer for so many years?
There are a few reasons, but most of them come down to the difference between a scribbler, and a writer.
A scribbler writes for the sheer pleasure of being able to scratch those wonderful shapes on the page and create a different world. What they write is usually not for anyone else’s consumption except themselves, and perhaps their close family and friends. It’s probably something they hold close to their heart, that they couldn’t bear to see mocked or belittled. So they hide it away, a secret smile of satisfaction crossing their faces when someone starts talking about the fact that they reckon everyone person has at least one novel in them.
But to be a writer, well, that’s a whole new ball game. I’ve been writing, editing and polishing a novel now for almost a year. It will be my first published work, my first foray into being a writer. Prior to that, I was a prolific scribbler. I have mountains of bits and pieces of half written stories and songs and poems and scripts that fill many pages of many notebooks, and many bytes of many hard drives.
Why did I decide to go from scribbler to writer? Several reasons. I’d like a second income stream, which will hopefully eventually be a primary income stream. I love to write and I love the process of writing a book. I feel like what I write has matured enough so that others will appreciate it as much as I love writing it. And I am a crazy, creative type person who has been stuck doing office administration for far too long.
So, now that I am at the pointy end of writing my book (it will be released on 31 March 2016), here are five things I have learned about being a writer:
1. The process is as important as the end product.
There are authors out there who churn out a book a month. I could do that, if I wanted to live under a rock and sacrifice absolutely everything about the rest of my life to do it.
(Just in case you’re wondering, I don’t really want to do that.)
Actually, I think the majority of those guys employ ghostwriters… I can’t imagine anyone being able to write a completed novel in 30 days.
The process is important. While everyone does it differently, every good book will have gone through the wringer. While the agony of bearing an untold story inside you might be great, usually the first draft that is birthed is an ugly, ugly thing. Ernest Hemingway was very clear about this. He said “The first draft of anything is shit.” It takes edits, and rewrites, and changes, to turn it into a beautiful child. And that brings us to the second thing I’ve learned.
2. It will never be perfect.
Your novel child might be looking attractive, but you are likely never to make it OH-MY-GOD-YOU-ARE-SO-AMAZINGLY-BEAUTIFUL-IT-HURTS-MY-EYES-TO-LOOK-AT-YOU attractive. And this is exactly how it should be, because you should continue to grow as an author, and your works grow with you.
I suppose this is where the analogy falls over a little. We parents think our children are shining gods of beauty, even if they are shrivelled up little pigfaces. We authors, well, we mostly understand that in a few years we will look back on our first novels and shudder violently and ask ourselves “Which level of the depths of hell did you dredge this piece of crap up from?”
Then, we will sit down, make it better, and re-release it on it’s ten-year anniversary. It’s a thing.
3. There will be trolls.
People will love my books. And people will hate them. The people who love my books are likely to do it quietly, with a sigh of satisfaction at the closing of the cover at the end. Maybe a handful will write a nice review.
The ones who hate them are likely to do it with a spew of vitriol across my online reviews, or my author page on Amazon. And probably most of those will make their opinions known.
Because we have such an open, connected world, there is space for anyone to offer up their judgement on anything. People can be nasty, hurtful and hateful. If you are putting a little slice of yourself out there by way of a novel, you need to have taken that cup of concrete, because you will need to harden up.
4. You will be scared.
It’s still two months until my baby goes out into the world, and I already feel a little bit sick when I think about it. After all, I’ve poured countless hours of my time, expertise, and dammit my very soul into this novel. Being a scribbler is much safer than being a writer. Being a writer means massive highs and massive lows. Fear of rejection. Fear of failure. Fear of phantom typos that turn your prose into some kind of sick joke. Fear that people will scoff, and say to you “You aren’t a writer. You aren’t even a writers nostril hair.” Fear that agents and publishers are looking down their noses at you, shaking their mighty heads at your pitiful effort.
It’s a fear that I suspect will need to be worked through over and over again, each time a new tome is produced. Will the public like it? Will they like me? Will it encourage publishers to put a little more faith in me? Is it really as good as I think it is? Or am I deluding myself? But even through all these questions, and self-doubts, there is still thing number five that trumps it all.
5. It will be worth it.
I can’t wait to see my child in print. Or even in digital print. I’m not proud. (But an actual physical book would be better.) It will be nice to relax, let it go out into the world, find it’s feet, find it’s niche and develop it’s own little friendships. No matter how ugly it is, how many people trash it on the internet, how many two star reviews it gets, it will be mine. My work. My effort. The fruits of my labour.
And that, I think, is what writing is all about. What any job is all about, really. Seeing the results from all the work you put in.
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