Mark Pepper is in da house once again. Another corker post from Mark that rings close to home for many, no doubt. To see Mark’s other works of art read Writer (GSOH) Seeks Doting Employer and How To Become An Ex-novelist.
The famous philosopher Sting once wrote:
“I’ve spent too many years at war with myself,
Doctor has told me it’s no good for my health,
To search for perfection is all very well,
But to look for heaven is to live here in hell.”
Consider Me Gone, from “The Dream of the Blue Turtles” – 1985
What does that mean when it appears in a blog about freelance writing? Well, that I’m pretentious, for one. And that I’m still prattling on about novels.
I thought I’d keep a little continuity in my blogs for the time being. I wasn’t going to, and then I read the latest thought-provoking offering from Señor Tumblemoose, entitled “Platform Diving”, in which he highlights the issue of a writer’s true direction – not what he is doing, but what his heart tells him he should be doing. Or her – obviously.
Specifically, Monsieur Le Tumblemoose mentions how the necessity of earning a living from his freelance work means his “Great American Novel” sadly has to remain on the back-burner. In this, he is far from alone. Lack of time is one of the most galling aspects for anyone who has their eyes set on becoming a published author.
I’m sure I wouldn’t have bothered with this blog if I thought Signor El Tumblemoose couldn’t write. From what I’ve read so far, he certainly can. But he’s not just an accomplished writer; he’s a thinker. He has something to say. He has every right to believe he can and should get into print.
Therefore, I suppose the purpose of this piece is to offer three things to all the budding novelists out there (who can actually write):
- Empathy, having known exactly the frustrations of desperately wanting to achieve, but being held back for sundry reasons.
- Encouragement, because I believe if it’s right to happen, one day it will.
- Perspective, because I’m the other side of the process now, and I can don my designer Hindsight specs and assess it all a little more dispassionately.
Let me explain …
First off, I’m not trying to be a smart-arse here. I’m the first one furiously ticking boxes when the screw-up questionnaire does the rounds. It’s the price you pay for wandering off the nine-to-five track and getting lost for nearly twenty-five years in that great outback known as Artistic Ambition. It happens to writers, actors, artists and anyone else we used to call Bohemian but now call Mostly Unemployed.
The reason I say empathy rather than sympathy is because I’m not looking to offer any annoying platitudes that sound all cuddly but don’t really mean anything. I’m not agreeing because it’s right intellectually to do so; I’m agreeing because I know how it feels. I left my acting career behind when we moved to Spain, but there really was nothing to leave behind, and my lack of success in that profession still causes me to wince now and then, despite having landed in a lovely spot on the planet.
As for my writing career, you already know how that panned out from my previous blogs. It’s tough when you’re consumed with a passion that you can’t quickly bring to fruition. But, as the cliché-mongers always say: if it was easy, everyone would be doing it.
Faith without works
Which brings me to the encouragement part. I have a stone coaster on my desk that my wife bought for me which reads: “DREAMS CAN’T COME TRUE IF YOU DON’T HAVE ANY”. Strangely enough, I received it after I had given up on my acting and writing ambitions and I’d embarked on a career as a secondary school drama teacher – which I detested for reasons that will be obvious to anyone who has ever been in a classroom full of British thirteen-year-olds. It seemed an odd gift given the timing, but within a couple of years we were on our way to the sunshine – an ambition that had always superseded even my artistic ambitions, and that came about through a series of events I could never have envisaged nor planned, all melding in perfect synchronicity. (She knows things, my wife.)
I firmly believe that you can achieve your goals in life if you work hard enough at them, truly believe in them, and have the patience to see them through. Belief on its own, though, is not enough. I’m not a religious person, but I still think the Bible has a few wise words to say on many subjects, and one would be that “faith without works is dead”. You have to do things, and although many of these things may not seem obviously relevant to your game plan at the time, they will often be working as subservient little minions to that game plan, slowly and painstakingly creating the necessary circumstances for it to eventually take a recognisable form.
For a writer with ambitions to become a published author, it may seem that leaving your beloved novel one-third-finished on your hard drive for another six months, when you’ve already spent two years on it, is the epitome of failing to carry out the necessary “works”. It’s something Herr Von Tumblemoose obviously feels, and I’ve experienced those awful hanging delays myself. It gnaws at you. Your novel calls to you every waking minute, and you end up dreaming about the damn thing when you sleep. It dictates how you perceive yourself: you’re not a successful freelance writer or a great salesman or a hard-working tradesman, you’re a slouch of a failed author.
Freud is in da house
Don’t pay that any heed. All that’s happening … is life. Bills need paying; the family wants to spend time with you; the car needs taking to the mechanic; the grass needs mowing. You can moan and think: Where’s my time? When do I get to write? When will the world get to read my work? But perhaps the world just isn’t ready yet. Perhaps the circumstances aren’t right yet. Perhaps your life experience isn’t yet sufficient to create the strength of novel you’ll one day be capable of writing. As long as you hold the dream dear and make every effort to fulfil your game plan, chances are that those unseen minions will be busy slotting in the tiny pieces so that one day you can stand back and see the true picture – a picture that may tell you now is the time to write, now you have the time to write, now the Muse is with you.
Or that tells you to relax, because it really doesn’t matter any more.
And so to my final point, and the reason for my quoting good ol’ Sting at the start: perspective. Sometimes, the battles we fight most valiantly are against ourselves. We set ourselves challenges and then proceed as though our lives will be forever blighted if we cannot succeed in them. We create self-made voids in our existence through the conviction that we absolutely must carry out certain tasks to feel complete. With regards to writing, we all need to remember that the moment our drive to create stunning literature becomes the need to be a published novelist, our Ego has hopped in behind the wheel.
Mr Ego is a stupid man. He’s the one that chauffeurs people to American Idol and X-Factor auditions when they’re tone deaf and look like they’ve got their face on upside down, back-to-front and inside out. You know the ones … pass that boy a banjo and show him to the porch.
Mr Ego was in charge of my car for a long time. I’ve largely managed to relegate him to the back seat in recent years, keeping him busy with a blue plastic wheel with a squeaky red horn in the middle, but he still occasionally manages to clamber up front and elbow me out of the way. The truth is that I’m never more lost than when Mr Ego takes control. He has no clue where he’s going. He’s listening to a broken satnav that speaks in a Mr Bean voice. He’ll head straight for the bridge that hasn’t been built yet, or drive down to the port at full speed to join the ferry that left hours ago. He’s not just stupid; he’s dangerously stupid.
The desire to create is pure. The desire to create for the world is often tainted. Don’t worry, if your creation is good enough, the world will catch on in its own time and there will be nothing you can do to prevent it. In the meantime, you just need to do the “works” when you can, and happily accept the constraints when you can’t. And don’t let Mr Ego skew what you think of as constraints. Don’t let him ruin your quality time with friends and family with his insidious little voice, telling you to get back to what’s important: THE NOVEL. Mr Ego is the evil character unmasked at the end of a Scooby-Do adventure: “I wanted to write a novel – and I would have done if it weren’t for you meddling kids.”
Try, also, not to be too focused on the destination; just enjoy the journey as it happens, each moment. Remember that the thrill is in the chase, not the capture. Why do you think so many successful people are so screwed up? It’s dire disappointment mixed with utter bewilderment – that they didn’t become the happiest person in the world when their dreams came true.
If the ultimate does happen, and a publisher does offer you a contract, bear in mind it will probably be for two or three books within a certain time frame. What, you want me to write another? Bloody hell. Then your writing becomes a job, and maybe even a chore. Pressure can splat creativity like a bug.
Just think about this: When your kid wanders in and asks you to play, which is worse? Quitting your novel for half an hour because you can, feeling a tad disappointed, but having a happy kid? Or sending a very unhappy kid away because you have an editor’s deadline to meet, and then feeling guilty as hell?
Glasses by Hindsight – they come at a price
Just to let you know: being a published author ain’t all that. My novels mean next to nothing to me. Not because I wasn’t in the million-dollar advance bracket; I never expected to be. Hodder could have had my books for free. I just wanted to get into print. And not just now, eleven years later; I felt that way within a few months of their publication. The framed book jackets and reviews came down off my study wall, and my precious novels went up into the attic. I’ve always derived far more pleasure from a completed DIY project around the house than from knowing I’m a published author, because the DIY project makes a real difference. Mr Ego is confused as hell about this. Yep, but he’s a moron.
I’m not suggesting you give up. If you want to become a published author you go for it. You just have to write when you can, and not beat yourself up when you can’t. Most importantly, you have to see the bigger picture. You need to kick Mr Ego out from behind the wheel. He needs to be in the back seat; better still in the trunk; best of all left by the roadside. Just enjoy what you do for the sake of doing it, and if you get published, great. If not, remember it’s just a load of words on paper. Will it matter in a hundred years? What are you missing out on while you’re at your computer tapping away for months on end? And what are you failing to fully enjoy when you’re not tapping away at your keyboard, because you wish you were?
I’m not the Grim Reaper so I can’t be sure, but I doubt anyone on their death-bed ever talks about the car they bought with the advance from their first novel; I imagine they talk about the people they love.