Monday, 11 July 2011

Two weeks and counting...

I've always wanted to be a writer. It's one of the things I've dreamt about since I was a little girl with my hair in pigtails... Well, okay, when I was a little girl I had incredibly short, white blonde curly hair, the kind of which your Nan would be proud of and it didn't actually allow for the wearing of pigtails, but you get my point.
I used to dream that being a writer would entail carrying a notepad or laptop (we didn't have those when I was a little girl with hair that wouldn't tie up into pigtails) everywhere and sitting in fancy cake shops, ordering hot chocolate and cream buns, whilst watching the world go by and dreaming up exciting stories. Admittedly, the setting was probably more down to my enormous greed than romanticism, but it was a pretty picture all the same.
I'd fantasise about winning awards for my best-sellers and wonder which popstar I'd take to the ceremony as my date (the answer to that varies dramatically according to my age, but Mark Owen was always a safe bet). I'd picture myself sitting cosily on a sofa, being interviewed on any number of TV chat shows. Who knows, maybe some day I'd be given my own show. There was no limit to my dreaming.
I had visions of being courted by various publishing houses, each offering a bigger financial reward than the last. I'd become a household name. I'd live in a house big enough to have my own little office, in which I'd write manuscripts which would become instant hits. I'd live in a stress-free existence, fielding phone calls from radio and TV stations, selling the animation rights to my latest children's book and generally swanning about.
A small part of me is glad that that hasn't happened so far, because there's a very real chance I might have become a bit of an arse...
Still, in a fortnight, I'm leaving my job to become a full-time author. I've got a laptop, but I highly doubt I'll be casually sitting in a cake shop, stuffing my face and writing a best-seller. Why? Well, partly because my laptop is getting on a bit and the battery life probably wouldn't survive the trip. But mainly because I can't afford a cake. I can't afford a hot chocolate. It seems that amongst all of those big dreams I had, something rather important got a bit lost.
Being a writer is bloody hard.
Remember I mentioned all those big publishing houses, competing to pay me squillions? Yeah... I have a box filled with rejection letters, rather than cheques. "Thanks but no thanks" was the order of the day for more years than I care to remember. In fact, although the last thing I'm about to do is belittle my own achievement, it was really a chance encounter, a chance conversation and a case of knowing the right person with the right contacts that got me published in the first place. I'm not saying it wouldn't have happened one day anyway, but knowing an author whose publishing house was looking for new children's stories was less of a helping hand and more of a MASSIVE PUSH in the right direction.
Oh, and those lazy days, spent sitting in my cosy office, typing out manuscripts? Replace that image with one of a woman who still lives with her parents because she doesn't earn enough to even rent a place of her own and you'll be closer to the truth. Because, er, that is the truth. And at the moment, it's not manuscripts I'm writing. It's e-mails to schools, libraries, shops, newspapers, magazines... ANYONE who'll listen. "Buy my books, pleeeeeaaaaase! They're good - honest!"
Not that I'm knocking it. Far from it. There are millions of people out there who would love to have a book published. I was one of them this time last year. And the fact is, becoming a writer isn't a case of: Have a book published, then sit back and await your royalty cheque. It's a case of: Write a book, beg and plead for it to be published, beg and plead for local radio/newspapers to feature you, beg and plead shops to stock it, beg and plead people everywhere to buy the finished article and then try to find time to write a follow-up before your eyes fall out of your skull from the stress of all the begging and pleading.
Writing, like any job, takes hard work if you want to get to the top. I've just managed - after years of trying - to get my foot onto the first rung of the ladder. Ahead of me is one hell of a climb. Am I prepared for all the hard work? Yes. Am I stressed about paying my bills with literally no income once I leave my job in two weeks' time? Dear Lord yes. Do I sometimes wonder if I'm doing the right thing? Yes - I'd be crazy not to. But am I about to give up in the face of all of those stressy factors? Excuse me while I go all "street," click my fingers and say: "Heeeeell to the no."
You see, deep down, I'm still that little girl, dreaming of being a writer and fantasising about making it big. The only difference is that now I have the capacity to actually make it happen. Oh, and I can wear my hair in pigtails, too.
Wish me luck!