A question you often hear published authors being asked is when did you know that you wanted to be a writer? Well, today I’m asking when did you know that other people wanted to be writers too? And do you ever dream of returning to the time before that, when you thought you were the only one? Do you ever want to go back?
Once upon a time, I was the only person I ever knew who wanted to be a writer.
As a child, it seemed as if it hadn’t even occurred to anyone else that someone was actually sitting at a desk and typing out our Point Horrors and our Babysitters Clubs. In secondary school there were certainly other girls who had a flair for the written word, but I was the only one writing articles for a student newspaper, entering writing competitions and generally flouncing about the place as if writing a book was a dream that was mine, all mine. There is no time as ripe with possibility like the summer after you finally finish school, and it was then that my published writer dreams really kicked up a notch. I started to devour every book I could find on the subject, daydreamed about query letters, synopses and Courier (double-spaced), and even though I had recently abandoned my aspirations to be a Level 4 virologist specializing in the Ebola virus—and had made my peace with the fact that I was never going to be a NASA astronaut—I still had I want to be a writer, which was exotic and unusual and exciting and dreamy and great.
And still mine, all mine.
By now I had encountered a few other aspiring writers at workshops and the like, but they were always my seniors by twenty or thirty years. This reinforced my delusion that I was the only twenty-something in Ireland who wanted to be a writer, and so the only twenty-something in Ireland who would—could—become one.
Then one Friday night, through the magic of television, I discovered that there was another one—and she was also blonde, also Irish, and also in her early twenties. Except she had just become a writer, signing a slew of deals worth over a million euro for her first novel, P.S. I Love You. She was me except for the fact that she had closed the gap between daydreams and reality, and she had done it in spectacular fashion. To say I took this news badly is like saying that Cecilia Ahern has sold a few books. Her deals and subsequent success hit me like a bad break-up: it took me a couple of years to really get over it.
While I was working abroad, I wasn’t thinking about writing or writers, other than reading books that other people had written. When I came back home and started to take my own writing dreams seriously, one of the benefits was meeting scores of other writers. This time around knowing that other people were trying to achieve the same things as me was more comforting than it was unnerving. It made me feel a little bit less crazy about my so-called crazy dreams.
But it had—has—its downsides too. Knowing what’s going on in the publishing world means that you can be a better writer and a better bookseller (when you’re selling your own books), but it also means that you know way too much about everything that’s going on. Every morning a lovely little e-mail drops into my inbox telling me who just signed a deal, what books publishers have just acquired, and how many copies Shades of Grey has sold this week. Then there’s all the blogs I read, the clued-up Twitter types I follow, and the gossip at writerly events. (And please don’t suggest that I cut myself off from it because if I did, I’d have to unpublish Self-Printed, stop writing this blog and find something to do with my life other than try to make a living from my self-published books, because you CANNOT operate successfully in a world you refuse to learn anything about. I have to keep up to date so that I can keep up to date. I could cut myself off if I wasn’t self-published, perhaps, but I can’t because I am.)
But sometimes I daydream about not knowing about all the amazing deals other writers have got, or who just signed with my dream agent or how a novel that contains the phrase “I rolled my eyes at myself” is earning its author seven figures a week. (That’s you again, 50 Shades.) Sometimes I daydream about going back to a time when ignorance was bliss. Like Jack, sometimes I want to go back to when I first wanted to be a writer, and I’d no idea that millions of other people wanted to be writers too.
What do you think? Do you ever want to go back?