I was talking on the phone today with a writer I’ve been mates with for a while. We were talking about how we might find ways to work together in the long-term future. He mentioned how we were both in it for ‘the long haul’, having first met around ten years ago, when he was starting out as a writer, and I had been going for a few years. (And thought I knew it all. Wry smile.)
It was a reminder of just what it takes to be a writer. It’s a lifetime commitment. When you first start out, you think you’re going to get somewhere quickly. When you sell your first story or make your first film, you think, this is it! I’m on my way! But the reality is that it’s just a first step in your career, and it takes many many such steps to build a viable life around writing.
Often it’s a case of one step forward, two steps back. You can’t always maintain the momentum you build up with sales and stories and progress. Sometimes a big project can consume months and years. Sometimes you make a wrong turn, get involved with something that’s not right for you, have to backtrack and start all over again. There are periods of time when nothing seems to move at all, when you feel like you’re back at the beginning again, when you can’t see the progress you’ve made. It’s possible to lose faith, to lose confidence, to lose support from people around you.
Through all of this, you just keep going. I don’t know why. Maybe, sometimes, you keep going just because you’ve got too much invested in it to stop. Maybe, other times, you feel this is what gives your life meaning. Sometimes there is joy in it. Often, you feel you are doing it in order to process hard lessons in life. When you stop and think about it, you realise that you do it because you have a passion or a compulsion to move people, the same way you were moved by words and books and images. You don’t do it for money, because there isn’t any. You don’t do it for fame. You don’t do it to see your name in print. The external rewards are too fleeting, too arbitrarily given, to be motivating in the long term. You do it because it’s who you are.
No writer worth their salt needs to be told not to give up. But we do need support. We need support from other writers who are also in it for the long haul; to be reminded that it is a long haul; that it is, in fact, a lifetime commitment that probably won’t ever bring massive worldwide success, but will keep giving all the secret, little, brilliant things it gives, for as long as we keep paying our dues.