One Track Mind
(Cross-posted on the WriteClub blog)
Whenever anyone asks me when I started writing I say, “age six”.
That was the age I was when I learned how to form words on a page. That’s when I began to learn how to write my stories down. I had been telling them before then. I was making up stories in my head from the age I learned how to think. From when I first began to talk.
I was about ten when I started telling people who asked me what I wanted to be when I left school that I was going to be a writer. I was eleven when I wrote my first novel.
I don’t think I was particularly advanced. I just believe that I was born to be a writer. That’s all I ever wanted to be. In truth, it’s all I’ve ever been any good at. I was always hopeless at sports – I can’t run, I can’t catch, I am clumsy, and I have absolutely no hand-eye co-ordination. I was always last to be picked for the teams in gym class.
I’m no good at crafts – knitting, sewing, and the like. It’s that hand-eye co-ordination again. I can’t cook. I can’t cultivate plants – they all die on me. I’m not even very good at computer games. Yes I like them, and I play them a lot, but my aim in taking out those zombies is abysmal and it takes several goes to get through a level. I have no maternal instincts – when I play The Sims my virtual children get taken away by social services. Lord knows what would happen if I was let loose on any real-life children. It’s probably best for everyone if we don’t find out.
The only thing I’ve ever been able to do is write stories. It’s the only thing I’ve ever felt I’m any good at. And at particularly dark times of my life, I’ve thought writing stories is the only justification for my existence. The only thing I contribute to the world.
Being a writer. This has been my focus for my whole life. I had a goal to be a published novelist by age 30. My 30th birthday came and went. No publishing deal wasn’t for lack of trying – I had two completed novels by then that I had been submitting for years. I decided to modify my goal, and aim for a book contract by age 40. As 40 approached I thought I would have to modify it again. But then, a couple of months before my 40th birthday, the contract from Lyrical for SUFFER THE CHILDREN arrived.
This was, as I have mentioned before, the beginning of the story instead of being the end. I have now had three books published and I am proud of that, but there are times when it’s not enough. I have met authors who make enough money from their writing to get by day to day. That’s not so for me. Since the day I got the first cheque for “The Top Floor” in 1989 from FEAR magazine up until my last royalty statement, a period of 24 years, the gross total of money I have earned in all that time from writing equates to less than what I earn in a month in the day job. Sometimes I fear I am a mere drop in a very big ocean in the writing world. I haven’t even found my books on any pirate e-books sites. Let me make it clear that I fiercely disapprove of e-book piracy. It’s stealing, from people for whom every penny counts. Every time I see a message on a forum from a writer saying something along the lines of, “this new pirate site has appeared, I found my books on it, be sure you check for yours and get them to take it down. What cheek!” I diligently go look for my books. To date I have never found any of them on a pirate site. Now, writers get very upset when their books are pirated, and understandably so. But when you’re not even considered important enough for pirates to think your books are worth stealing, you can’t help but feel rather insignificant.
I would like to be able to make enough money from writing to do it full time. I’d like to land a deal with a publisher who can get my books into Waterstones or Barnes & Noble or another major book store chain. I’d like to be approached by Con organisers to be a guest or a panel member instead of my going to them and begging.
When you’ve had one focus all your life and it always feels a little bit out of reach, you do sometimes feel like you’re the donkey with the carrot on the stick tied to its ears, constantly trying to get to something you will never be able to reach. But still, you don’t give up.
Maybe these things will happen one day. But maybe they never will. For now, I guess I just keep reaching for that carrot. Because I am a writer. That’s what I am, first and foremost. Whether anyone knows or cares who I am in the future doesn’t really matter – I know who I am. I am a writer. That will never change.