The median earnings of writers in the United Kingdom is £4,000 a year. Read that again – £4,000. Let’s face it – unless you’re EL James or JK Rowling, you’re not going to make enough to live on. Most of us who write have to rely on other work to keep us going. Yet deep down we all secretly want success: we want to hit that jack-pot. We want to be recognised, read and appreciated.
The problem is – there are so many books out there – let alone short stories, poetry and flash fiction. I’m sure neither you nor I, however much we love books, have the time to read all we’d like. I’m also sure a substantial number of excellent books pass me by.
The publishing world is fickle one. It relies on a small number of ‘big’ names and celebrities. Dubravka Ugresic, in her book, ‘Thank you for not Reading’ describes how Joan Collins, opening the London Book Fair some years ago, swept all beside her. ‘What does this have to do with literature?’ Ugresic writes. ‘Almost nothing. Then why mention something as trivial as Joan Collins’s pink suit? Because trivia has swamped contemporary literary life and become, it seems, more important than the books. A book’s blurb is more important than the book itself, the author’s photograph on the book jacket…more important than its content….’
You get the picture. Marketing is King. Celebrity is King. Or Queen. Does this matter? Yes and no. I mean, you’re not going to get anyone to read your book if readers don’t know it exists and those of us far down the publishing ladder are always going to struggle to get noticed. This isn’t an article about marketing so I won’t give you suggestions on how to market your book. Anyway I’m lousy at marketing but it is necessary, even if it bores you to tears and you feel you’re no good at it. (You do get better at it with practice – I promise). No, this is an article about writing. As for that elusive ‘success’ – if you’ve completed a story, a novel or a poem, that’s success. Making it as perfect as you can – that’s success. Getting it out there via a blog, or in print – however – that’s success.
Annie Lamott writes about publication in her excellent book, ‘Bird by Bird.’ ‘I just try to warn people who hope to get published that publication is not all it is cracked up to be. But writing is. Writing has so much to give, so much to teach, so many surprises.’
Many of us are so caught up in the idea of success in our culture that we fail to appreciate our successes. Like a new dress, or a new car, the lure is always there of more and better. It’s a snare and a delusion.
Natalie Goldberg in her book, ‘Writing down the Bones’ says, ‘Trust in what you love, continue to do it and it will take you where you need to go. And don’t worry too much about security. You will eventually have a deep security when you begin to do what you want. How many of us with big salaries are actually secure anyway?’
We need to pay our bills of course, and many people don’t have the luxury to be creative. They are busy working as cleaners, nurses, care workers….You can be creative in your job, for sure and anyone can write, sketch or pen a song. It doesn’t have to be a project that keeps us away from earning a living.
For those of us who are lucky and/or determined enough to work as writers, aim for success, yes but do understand that there’s always another mountain to be climbed – always. Or even a mountain to fall down. The secret is to pick yourself up and climb the mountain again, even if you need a walking stick or a lift part way. And please enjoy the view while you’re up there.