#Authorstats is a wonderful hashtag I discovered the other day – published writers are sharing the statistics of just how many years it took them to succeed. All of the garbage books they had to write, all of the rejections they conquered, every step of the arduous journey which kills off so many in the first couple of steps.
This graph represents the number of stock photos I look at over time
When you start writing it’s not finding the time to sit down and get words on paper, it’s not learning some of the finer details of grammar, and it certainly isn’t thinking of ideas. The single hardest thing an amateur writer has to contend with is the malicious voice that lives within all of us:
You don’t know how to write. Delete the whole thing and start over. In fact, don’t bother. Your writing has no message. Your characters are pale imitations. Your dialogue doesn’t sound authentic. Have you even formatted it properly? Is any of it even formatted properly? Learn how to do that, and all the other stuff you’re not sure of. Learn all of it perfectly before you write another word. You’re going to embarrass yourself otherwise.
For me, that voice froze me solid for almost five years. I hear it every day when I’m at work in my office. It’s often the first thing I hear when I wake up, and after a bad day, it’s the last thing I hear before I sleep.
Today, I’m going to give you my author stats. Unlike the great inspirations, my story doesn’t come with a happy ending, because spoilers, I’m not a published writer. It’s not wasted time though, the last eighteen years have helped me find my formula, not for success, but for perseverance.
If you make it to the end, I’ll even share it with you.
2000 – I’m eight years old, and I’m in English class. The teacher got us to write a story. The first constructive feedback about my writing I remember: Have you ever thought about writing a story without guns or knives? I was also chastised for drawing periods much, much larger than they needed to be. Intellectual snobs.
2001 – I write a rap, not featuring any guns or knives. The teacher loves it, so much, in fact, they tell me they’re going to put it on the school website. I don’t have the internet, but I’m given a printed copy, and to my horror, I see some the words have been changed to help the piece flow better. I asked them to change it back, but I lose my first editing argument.
2003 – My sister gets a computer for Christmas. It very expensive, and she’s not really sure how to set it up or what to do with it, and bless them, neither are my parents. Eventually, I find some sort of word processor on the thing and I’d use it to write. One day my dad discovers a poem I’d written about marching soldiers. He tells me it’s bloody good, and him saying that sure made me feel bloody good.
2004 – One of my friends gives me a floppy disc with a story he’d written. I find this act of transfer amazing, and I’m quick to reciprocate, for a brief time we start swapping stories.
We were just like cowboys around a campfire, only with floppy disks and without the constant fear of dysentery
2005 – My parents enter the 21st century and finally get the internet. Like any teenage boy with his first access to the web, you’ve guessed it, I engross myself in reading and writing Harry Potter fanfiction.
2007 – I move on from fan fiction and, amazingly, begin an even more embarrassing hobby, the world of fantasy wrestling leagues, or e-feds, as they were known. For those (everyone) not aware, an e-fed was a roleplaying website where you would create a wrestling character, be booked in matches against other people, and for some the reason the winner would be determined with a writing contest, of all things. Think Dungeons and Dragons, but for wrestling nerds.
2009 – I enter a local writing competition, you can read more about this one here.
2011 – I’m a year into studying a Business degree at University, I’ve not written anything for a long time. The malicious voice has seemingly won. I don’t know it yet, but a lack of a creative outlet is making me pretty miserable. I go into my second year determined to join a society, and I find a small improvisation drama society. The voice is hating this, it’s determined to convince me I’m an imposter in a sea of creative types. It urges me to quit before they find me out as the fraud I am.
But I don’t quit. I don’t quit because for the first time in my life I am surrounded by people who are nurturing and encouraging my spark. Instead of expelling me, they welcome me with open arms. I start performing comedy, I start acting, I start writing again. The voice isn’t quieter at this point, it’s gone.
2013 – I have the winning pitch, and so I’m selected to write and direct the societies of end-of-year production. It’s a tremendous amount of responsibility. It’s the biggest show they put on all year; the whole thing is a whirlwind which definitely deserves a blog post of its own in the future. The show ends up being, in my opinion, a modest success.
2014 – University is over. I move back home, away from my friends, away from their encouragement. I job search, I start work, I stress. I gain weight.
2015 – The voice is back. Thinking about joining a local drama group? They’re filled with an older crowd, you wouldn’t fit in. You were never any good at acting anyway, everyone was just too nice to tell you otherwise. Even if you could act, you’d need to lose weight before you got back on stage. The show you produced and directed wasn’t even good. You were an imposter. Quit these dreams and live in the real world already. Quit. Quit. Quit.
2016 – I quit.
2017 – I create this website. I write the first post, ‘A Moment in Inferna.’ I think it’s OK. But try as I might, I can’t seem to write anything else I consider better than awful. I start looking at it again, and I wonder if my first post was OK at all. Actually, I start to think it’s quite bad.
2018 – Well hey, you made it. My sad, sole post was the only thing posted on this blog until three weeks ago.
The voice is still there. I didn’t fix it, because I don’t think it’s something that can be fixed. You have to accept and ignore it and move forward.
It’s nagging me even I as write this sentence, to delete this whole post and start again, or even better to quit the whole damn thing.
I’m not going to though, not this time.
I’m energised. I have big plans for my writing and for this blog, and for the first time in a while, I’m getting stuff done.
It’s time for that formula I promised. Not for success remember, but for perseverance:
Fear of Unfulfilled Passion > Fear of the Malicious Voice
Something for you to think about until next Friday. Now, how about you give me something to think about, or even better something to blog about, in the comments below.
– H. L