I’m a writer.
I’ll let you in on a secret. I’m only a writer because I am utterly crap at everything else. Everything else. I have been many other things and failed miserably. I was a bank teller briefly but I harboured a sneaky desire to be a bank robber and that wasn’t going to work so I quit before the inevitable happened. I was a cleaner but I’m quite hyperactive and never took the time to do the job very well – a bit of spit and polish and a spray of air freshener and that was it. I never managed a Savoy corner on the bed-sheets or a completely smudge-free mirror. I taught kindergarten kids but I really don’t like small children unless they share some of my DNA and I often laughed when they fell off swings. I did a law degree and nearly died of boredom. The thought of being an actual lawyer made me break out in life-threatening hives. I almost got a job writing dating profiles for people looking for love but I did not impress with my sarcastic and slightly offensive trial sample-profiles.
I always wrote stories at school and spent a life living in a world of make-believe. The nuns called me a day-dreamer. I could string a sentence together and liked writing and developed a weird fantasy about being Jackie Collins or Judith Krantz because they wrote wonderful smut that was banned from the school library and they made bucketloads of money and looked frightfully glamorous on their book sleeves while I was then a pimply teenager with a libido going haywire. But somewhere along the way, the fantasy fell flat because after many futile attempts, I realised that it was actually hard work to write a whole book.
But, after living a life like a headless chicken, trying a bit of this and a bit of that, and pretty much exhausting every other avenue, I decided to have a stab at being a writer and forced myself to write a book-ful of words in some semblance of order and started sharing it about….
Only to discover that the heady world of publishing that had routinely doled out six figure advances to writers and built them up into glossy celebrities…..had died and been replaced by some austere fortress being guarded by accountants. I learned that in the cold hard real world of ‘now’, writers have to compete like beggars for a low four-figure advance and will be lucky to ever make a cent past it and will be forgotten and chucked in a bargain bin in the blink of a teary eye. No amount of bouffed up hair and eyeliner is going to make you a literary star…you have to write brilliantly and yet still make it something that people want to read en masse.
I don’t think I’m a particularly good writer. Every time I read a book by someone else, I wish until it hurts that I’d written it. Other writers weave words together so effortlessly, spinning humour and suspense while keeping the reader spell-bound and transported to other worlds and times and places. I love books. The look of them. The smell of them. The way they suspend belief and reality. How they sculpt my mind and emotions. I even love how they sit on book-shelves, upright, sideways or all in a pile. I’m a bibliophile. I love books more than cake. Every single book.
No. I lie. I actually really hate anything written by Neville Shute. I know that sounds mean and a little bit blasphemous. But I was forced to read one of his books as a school-kid and it felt like water torture and I’ve never forgiven him for writing it and can’t bring myself to try another. Like that time I got food poisoning from a fish-burger and can’t even look at another or Dimple Scotch which bruised me permanently with my very first hangover. I’m sure Neville’s books are wonderful but the childhood trauma won’t leave me, so it is what it is. Everyone has a favourite writer (mine is Emily Bronte because she writes like a mad-woman) and I suspect everyone also has a least favourite. Oh, I also hate Beatrix Potter. Another sacrilege. But it’s more about the illustrations. I don’t trust those small water-coloured animals and I keep reading between the lines of her text looking for something really nasty and sinister and I always end up disappointed and faintly nervous.
So I’m a writer. It has its up side…I never get out of pyjamas. I work in bed. I am thirteen paces from the kitchen pantry. I don’t have to speak to other humans. I can kill people and have wild affairs…on the page.
The down side is that I think my butt cheek has died. No, really. I think my gluteus maximus has atrophied from sitting in the same spot day in day out, tapping words into a laptop. Also three of my fingers (the ones that hit the most popular vowels and consonants like a and t on the keyboard) are showing signs of deteriotive erosion. I’m not even making this shit up although I’m a writer so I’d forgive you for thinking so.
Also, being a writer is very, very bad for your self-esteem, your ablity to get along with other flesh and blood people and your general mental health…and your body parts. You will pour your heart onto the page and send it full of good cheer and hope and wishes to those living in the impenetrable fortresses via the wire and you will wait and wait and wait and wait and wait…..ad infinitum….until maybe….someone tells you that your work is CRAP. They rarely use that word. Usually they will say something like ‘good luck but not for us’. Most politely pretend they never saw your words and you will just wither forever waiting for that never-coming response. Rejection will become so common that you stop being disappointed when one comes pinging into your inbox like a fart-bomb and you’ll throw your head back and laugh like Jim Carrey and scream ALRIGHTY THEN!
Or….rarely….like once in a polka dot moon….someone will like what you wrote and contract it and then change it to be more like what they want and less what you thought it was and you will end up with a book that is loosely what you started but with the fingerprints of many others on it and you will look at it and sigh….’I’m a real writer now’ and then you will discover GOODREADS and learn that you only think you’re a writer and anonymous people with profile photos of cats have realised immediately that your book is a sham and it sucks and you should go back to writing dating profiles for losers that no-one could ever love.
But maybe I’m just being cynical.
It is all worth it. The dead bum. The gnarled fingers. The abject poverty. The smell of my week-old pyjamas that are gunked into my crevices and will need to be showered off, leaving raw patches of skin.
I have a new book coming out and I am so, so excited. This one. Maybe this one will be it. I’ll puff up my hair and slap on some lippy and put on real clothes and go out and flog it to the masses. I’ll pretend I don’t read the bad reviews while using the reviewer’s name as a character in my next novel, the character who has their entrails unraveled by the dashing serial killer….and I’ll walk past the bargain bin the very next week and pull my leftover books out and buy them all and give them as gifts to family members for the next few years.
No…I’m sorry. I seem to be painting this picture of being a writer all wrong. It’s actually a dream come true. My name on an actual book. In a book store. A library. It is a thrill. An incredible thrill, to hold your very own book in your hands. All the words came out of your heart, your head, your soul. The thrill is like…so thrilling…it’s…there are no words. But it’s short-lived.
I love being a writer because it teaches you things. It teaches you humility (and a bit of humiliation); it teaches you courage (and a little bit of masochism); it teaches you resilience (and a little bit of naivete)….
But I wouldn’t have it any other way. Who’d be a writer? Me.