I have a rather roundabout point to make, and knowing me it will take a while (and there will be some F-bombs, 'cause I'm like that). But I'm posting it with the hope that it might help some people out, so off we go.
There’s this feeling that I’ve had since I started writing that I’ve carried around with me. It’s like an oversensitive, jealous little core deep down that formed when I started telling people that I wanted to be an author for a living. People are really excited to put down that idea. Especially
family and friends. “That’ll never pay enough,” they’ve said. “It’s really hard. Better have a plan B.” “Go to university and be a lawyer and write in your spare time.”
It’s tough to combat that, especially when you’re young. I went through a rough phase when I was … teenaged, where I seemed to bash my head against that wall every day. My parents were really intent that I be a dentist or a doctor, and my friends were pretty ambivalent for the most part. That, or they’d try to immediately outdo me. “Oh yeah? You're writing a story? That’s nice. I write stories too. I’ve wanted to be a writer since I was 1 year old. I got published in a magazine. Neil Gaiman thinks I’m the best writer he’s ever read. Here’s a picture I drew of my main chara. Anyway… what’s yours about?” … sound familiar?
I did go through a phase where I was dangerously depressed about it. Some people are depressed and suicidal about being gay. I was the same over being a writer, I guess. There was this tremendous social pressure both inside and outside my family that didn’t have to scream, it just stated, with inescapable immunity, that being a writer was impossible, and you’d only wind up soulless and angry if you ever tried. Do. Not. Bother. I was very angry that I was what I was in a world where I wasn’t allowed. What was the point in me being alive if I had to force myself to be someone else? Life seemed pointless and frustratingly cruel.
My dad was actually the one to straighten me out, which is strange because he lives in another city, and we don’t even talk that much. If I was really intent on ignoring everyone's practical advice and I was actually going to be a writer, I should go to university and get an english degree. This made me really mad and scared. I’d heard plenty of horror stories that told of bright, engaged readers and writers that university broke down into people that hated to read, that grew to be miserable and jobless and pretentious.
If anything, I wanted to be too good for university. They’d only crush my dreams and make me bitter. Or, they’d only look at my grades and tell me I wasn’t smart enough to get in. Or, they’d let me in, and I’d fail in the thing that I was so blindly sure I was excellent at. I didn't want to be thrown in with hundreds of people who were better than me. But I eventually convinced myself that I was good enough (also my dad yelled at me for the first and only time ever). So I applied, and I’ll be damned if I didn’t get in.
The problem was, my faith in myself was badly shaken. Particularly during my time off school. I did write, but I was distracted often (by Final Fantasy 10 and manga
). I thought a real writer would stay focussed and keep going. They'd plan out a novel, and make it happen. And they'd have way more good ideas than I seemed to have. I just didn’t have the discipline, and people were quick to reinforce this idea in me. Even though I was actively writing, I had no interest in short stories and hadn't finished any novels, so it was as if I'd done nothing at all.
University was a terrible experience institutionally. But I can’t describe how much I loved it and how good it was for my self-esteem. I aced my courses. It wasn’t easy though. I read slowly, and I’d stay up doing course work until my eye whites were so bloodshot they turned purple. I was stressed out and handed in a lot of papers late, without editing them. I made a lot of mistakes and planned badly sometimes. But in the end, I was invited back to do a PhD. Invited. Without applying for sponsorship or undergoing the honours program. But I was 26 and still living in my mother’s basement. I decided to leave the U and go get a job in order to move out.
It took me three months to get a decent job (and as a side note, whoever says that a BA is a "fries with that?" degree, is a fucking idiot), but the unemployed months were the best three months of my life. I wrote every day for 6, 8, sometimes 18 hours in a sitting. I researched during the day and wrote during the night. I turned a 25 page unfinished project into what is now a 500 page manuscript that I’ll be taking to publishers hopefully this year. I had gained the discipline I was missing. Or, I had shaken off a lot of the worries that were paralyzing me. If I was good enough for a herd of PhDs, why wouldn’t I be good enough for a publisher? I had put all this work into an English degree; I wasn’t going to be a dentist or a lawyer. I was going to be a fucking writer, and the rest of the world would just have to find a way to deal with it.
The last journal I posted was about the site Wattpad. Despite disliking forums and hating self-promotion (nothing makes me sicker than someone whoring themselves out for attention), my novel was pretty well received. I’m top 30 in my genre consistently. The top spot I was at was 21st, which is pretty good considering my incredible lack of network (and general hermit-ness).
But, you’ll not be surprised, that’s not good enough for me. I like giving people with low views a chance to being with, but I also didn’t want to give people that were ranked above me more attention. They were (and I guess still are) my competition. I wanted to know how to beat them. Here's that little core of jealous oversensitivity that I was talking about. Even though I had come a long way, I was very insecure that I wasn't the best right out of the gate.
All at once, and while I don’t remember the day, I do remember pulling my scarf from my coat rack on my way out the door, the second I suddenly became an adult.
My point is this: no one is a reader for the same reason as the person next to them. We all want our stories to be read, whether we are pros, semi-pros, aspiring pros, or just doing it for fun. The only people that will read our work are people that are doing it voluntarily. Each one of them has their own motivation. Some people read because they really loved Jane Austen and thereby hunt for more historical novels to read. Some people can’t stand J.A., and they hate Tolkien, and they would never read the classics but for some reason they really love Game of Thrones. Some people only read because they want to marry someone from One Direction and they fuel their fantasy with fan fiction. Some people read because they want to write and they are taking cues from other writers. My point is: no one will read your book as their first and only book. Someone else’s writing will bring them in. We need Jane Austen, and Tolkien, and comedy, and erotica, and fan fiction. We need hobby writers and professional writers, and fiction and nonfiction writers. Other authors are not our enemies. We are threads in the tapestry of literature. Some are gold, some are blue, some are a motley combination of colours that may or may not look out of place where it is. But this tapestry must be diverse and huge in order to attract readers to us. If there was only one flower in the world, there would be no bees left in existence to help fertilize it. We need as many writers as we can find, and we need to help each other to succeed.
The Dalai Lama is reported to have said the following: “The world does not need more successful people. The world desperately needs more peacemakers and healers, restorers and storytellers, and lovers of all kinds.” Has it ever crossed your mind that the world needs
you? And not just in a ‘yeah, diversity rocks!' kind of way, but in a desperate kind of way? Have you ever looked at your writing and thought, 'the world needs this'? And not because it’s new agey or because Oprah would say that it’s uplifting. It could be about Twilight characters dressing up as Ghostbusters to combat Hitler. It doesn’t matter what it’s about. It can really affect people, even though you might not be aware of it.
The Dalai Lama’s thoughts on the topic probably would have made for a nice little lemon drop of motivational thinking for about 5 minutes before I went back to what I was doing. I’m still on my journey, I’m not yet published and my day job is starting to chafe my writing muscle. I have a long way to go, but I got a message on my book the other day. It was from a mom. She wrote to tell me that her daughter started reading Broken Timepiece and that she felt a particular affinity with my main female character. The character is young, smart, and funny (and she more or less manipulates everyone around her, kinda maybe not so exemplary, but there you go). The daughter showed her mom the book and told her that this is what she wanted to grow up to be. The mom thought it was a good
thing as the daughter has since taken up an interest in asserting herself more, and learning about politics. She took the time to tell me about it.
I was (and am) quite stunned. This is not what I really planned or intended to have happen. I certainly didn’t write it to teach children how to be. I turned into the type of person that was measuring myself by a silly little algorithm. But the affect on one person seems to have been quite high. That’s why I believe the Dalai Lama quote.
The world needs you. And while it can be unkind, while the job itself can be frustrating, exhausting, hard on your eyes and tendons and back, while it can be lonely and it can even seem futile, it isn’t. Storytelling is a basic human need, like eating and breathing. Your job is to keep and to create and to defend human culture. You have a responsibility to keep going. To keep typing, and scratching paper, and to keep imagining.
We are the perfect balance of mind and heart and soul. We are humanity itself.
So, if anyone ever tells you to get a real job, or don't quit your day job, or get a real hobby, laugh in their face before you punch them in it, and walk away with a big smile on. Because baby, you’re the reason why we’re alive.