As I write this, I’ve been a published author for over two weeks. My book Stormdancer will have launched in the UK by the time you read this. It’s been available in Australia since the start of September, and the US launch isn’t far behind. I’m not sure if I can say this whole publication gig has been different than I expected, because I tried not to hold expectations about how it would pan out. There’s the old saying about assumption being the mother of all balls-ups (mother, brother, any other sucker), and I try not to be home when Mr Screw-up comes knocking. He always makes a mess of the carpets and drinks all my booze.
But I did make one assumption, and I realize I’ve been making it for the past five years in one form or another. It starts with seven words.
'I’ll feel like a real writer if . . .'
Insert any of the hundred goals a writer can set for themselves at the end of those seven words – it’s all the same.
'I’ll feel like a real writer if I finish this manuscript.'
'I’ll feel like a real writer if I get a literary agent.'
'I’ll feel like a real writer if I get a book deal.'
'I’ll feel like a real writer if Kate Beckinsale wants to bounce up and down on me like I was a trampoline.'
Every writer I know is guilty of this one (maybe not the Kate Beckinsale part). It’s the carrot aspiring authors dangle in front of themselves to maintain their pace, to keep walking on a road where the odds of seeing print are millions to one. And giving yourself motivation to keep walking in the face of those crushing odds – there’s nothing wrong with that at all. But the oasis of validation and vindication you see on the horizon is only an illusion. I’ve done all those things now (well… not all, but a man can hope) and I’m still not sure I feel any more of a writer than I did when I wrote my first scene.
There’s a rush when each of these mountains are climbed, no doubt. But beyond every mountain lies another one, higher, and harder to scale. And unless you take the time to stop and look around, to celebrate the mountains you’ve already conquered, you’re just another Sisyphus, pushing that boulder up the hill, only to watch it roll back down again.
The truth is, if you’re writing, then you’re a real writer. Don’t wait for lightning (or Kate) to strike, and don’t base your validation on the approval of others. Base your validation on writing that scene that makes the hairs on your arms stand on end. Take your vindication in the fact that you’re following your dream, in a life where most people only think about doing it during commercial breaks. I get to walk into bookstores and see my novel on the shelves now, and it still feels totally surreal to me. I keep expecting to wake up and find out none of this ever happened. I’ve been a published author for over two whole weeks now, and I still don’t feel like a real writer at all.
But I write. So I am. If you write, then you are too.
Don’t ever stop.