‘I’d like to write a novel; I just don’t have the time.’ How many times have you heard that one and gnashed your teeth? As if writing a novel is that easy and all you need to perfect the art is the time to do it. Would they say the same to the doctor they meet at a party? ‘Oh, I’ve always wanted to be a heart surgeon, but I just haven’t got the time.’ Sounds ridiculous in that context, doesn’t it? And what about the financial markets? We’d all be millionaires if we only had the time to play the stock market.
I don’t think so. These aren’t pastimes you pick up on a whim. They are professions that take dedication, practice, and, dare I say it, talent. You’ll never be a concert pianist (as I know to my cost) unless you practice, but more importantly, you’ll never get off the starting blocks without some innate talent.
Writing is the same. It’s a vocation, whether you’re getting paid for it or not. It’s a need.
Successful writers, and I include the unpublished along with the published in this description, have completed their novel, story, epic poem, whatever, by dint of their hard work, by refusing invitations, by meeting deadlines, by making sacrifices. By getting up in the early hours to avoid the children and the telephone; by squeezing in a few minutes of thinking time between the school run and the job in order to work out that difficult plot; by volunteering at the local hospice to find out what goes on so they won’t give an inaccurate picture when they set their story there.
They’ve got imagination in bucket loads; aptitude, flair and talent. These people who think that they could do the same, if only they had the time, crease me up. Do me a favour.
An equal number of people, on finding out that I write, have told me that one day they’ll get round to writing their autobiography, because ‘I’ve had a very interesting life and everyone says I should write about it. It should sell really well.’
My advice: don’t bother. Unless your family and friends run into the thousands and they’ve all promised to buy a copy, you’ll never make any money. No one else will be interested. Believe me, your life would need to have been very exciting indeed, include some famous personalities in risqué circumstances, and be so traumatic it appeals to the misery memoir sector, before it would find a market.
Fictionalising your memoirs might be a way forward if it’s fame and wealth you’re after. At least that way the bad guys may not recognise themselves, a point worth considering if there’s a possibility you might get sued. And when the action starts to flag you can make the rest up
In these days of e-publishing, it’s perfectly possible to write about your life and print a few copies for your family, but please don’t inflict it on the rest of us. Am I being too harsh? Too cynical? Or just realistic?