“I’ve decided I’m going to be a writer,” she said, beaming. I laughed. The beam faded somewhat.
“What’s so funny about that?”
“You can’t…” I faltered, struggling to get across the enormity of what she’d just oh-so lightly suggested. “You can’t just ‘be a writer.’”
Why not indeed? I was lying, of course. Anyone can be a writer. The particular person in my example could probably be quite a good one, especially with screen plays. But the lie I told her when I said she couldn’t just ‘be a writer’ was well intentioned. It was an attempt to help her understand what is so often misunderstood. Writing is neither a) a sure way to riches nor b) as easy as it looks. The most important thing to bear in mind about writing (or at least the writing spoken of by my friend) is that it is, and will always be, a business. And businesses have rules and regulations that need to be learned, codes and conducts which have to be adhered to. Businesses are run by professionals and they must, if they are to continue to exist, have profits.
Cynicism, I hear you cry! You need plenty of it if you’re going to be a writer. There’s a side to the publishing industry that Joe Public doesn’t know about. On the outside looking in they see someone like Stephenie Meyer have a crazy dream one night, sit down at a laptop, writer 100,000 words, send them to a publisher and BANG, there’s a book contract, a load of money and film deals thrown in for good measure. She is one in a gazillion. You are not going to be the person that gets that lucky. Take a deep breath, smile, and accept it.
Acceptance, that’s something else you’ll need a lot of if you’re going to be a writer. You need to accept your limitations and accept failure. If you cannot accept rejection you will never, ever become a writer. We all get rejected. No exceptions.
Some stats should help sober you up. I don’t know what the sources for these are, but I’ve seen them in a few places and they sound like pretty fair guesses to me. Globally around 500,000 new books are published each year. That means in a world of 7 billion people 1 in every 14,000 has a book published every year. Of those 500,000 writers only 2% will sell over 500 copies. So 10,000 people, 1/700000 of the world’s population, every year, are successful in their ambition to become or continue to be a writer. The other 98% of works published rapidly fade into obscurity. And those are the ones that have been PUBLISHED. Of the works that have failed to reach print, or remain only half finished, or are nothing more than an embryo of thought in their author’s head, well, who can say how great their numbers are?
I knew those facts when my friend, out of blue, told me she wanted to be a writer last week. That was why I laughed. I shouldn’t have. I gave her the advice I was given when I first started out, the advice given to all the young writer wannabes. Don’t do it. And I’m sure she thought the exact same thing I did when I heard those arch words of defeatism.
Pfft. Don’t do it? What a con. Writing looks like the easiest job in the world!