Do you want what you think you want?

I doughnut know whether I want one …

“All writers dream of writing a best-seller” is a line I’ve read, and heard, many times during my decades of both reading and writing.

Do they? Do I? Do I want the stress of writing the thing in the first place, of sacrificing months, possibly years, of my life, under the additional pressure of high expectations of a publisher who has given me a generous advance?

Do I want the book tours — they are supposedly exhausting — and having to perform readings, maybe give speeches, undertake media appearances?

Do I want the subsequent demands to produce a follow-up book?

Perhaps you would love all those things, but it’s important to consider them properly, because that’s what bestselling authors’ lives can be like. Are you prepared to be away from home? Are you prepared for the eyes of the world on you? Do you really want your life to change, quite so much?

I can only speak for myself, but I do not dream of producing a best-seller or indeed of any kind of writing fame, and so I don’t pursue it. If it were to come along by accident, I imagine I’d shy away from it to some degree. Perhaps, I might find myself embracing it. Who knows. Who cares. I don’t, really; at least, not enough to make an effort to find out.

You may well think entirely differently, of course, and there’s nothing wrong with that. But after having written my most recent ‘mistake’ post — Keeping the Dream Alive — I started to think more about why we have the dreams we have, and what truly drives them, so I think it’s important to examine them.

Fame, fortune? Or just to get your writing ‘out’ there — as far out there as possible? Or is it validation? Or is it attention? Is it a form of love?

All of these are fine, I feel obliged to emphasise. You’re entitled to want what you want, and in whichever way that you want it.

But I would just like to advise all you aspiring writers to think extremely carefully about what you’re chasing, and whether it really is what you want, or whether there’s something else underlying that desire, and, if so, whether there’s another way you can achieve it — one which might avoid some of the consequences that will come, but that you may not be looking for.

Challenge yourself to be sure of and secure in what you’re doing, and if it turns out you’re not sure, then it’s better to find out now, than to find out later.

And if it turns you are sure, it’ll strengthen your resolve and benefit your progress.

Either way, good will come out of it.

I just wanted to tell you that, folks, and nothing more.

Comments 13

  • It’s what I used to want, or think I did. More recently I’ve come to realise that a JK Rowling level of fame wouldn’t suit me at all. That’s good as now I don’t have to feel bad about not achieving it.

  • As someone who’s had a bestseller (ahem – it’s been downhill ever since! ), I concur. Writers might dream of having a bestseller, but they don’t dream about the loss of control. Want to go out with friends tonight? Sorry, got to cancel, I’ve just been told my publisher’s PR dept has lined up a radio interview for then. Want a quiet day at the office? (I was still in full time employment then.) Sorry, the employers want to exploit the fact that one of their employees has a life outside of work … cue photo call with local paper. (Why should THEY get good publicity out of what I do in MY spare time?)

    Don’t get me wrong – there were benefits (I earned enough to resign from the day job, and it secured me a second book deal – with a higher advance). But there were times when I no longer felt in control of my book.

    Write what you want to write and seek the pleasure in that. Getting an email, out of the blue, from a reader who enjoyed your writing is the best reward a writer can have. (Although, earning some money for your efforts is always to be welcomed.)

    • I can’t imagine how busy you must have been, and how it impacted your life to have that success. Just seeing the words ‘loss of control’ in your comment has brought it home a little more just how much changes when such a thing happens to you. Glad you’ve come out of it on the other side, with added wisdom of experience!

  • I’ve been involved with local media to promote various projects . Although I’d previously dreamt of this press attention, I discovered I hated it.
    I was interviewed on radio stations – never again! Nerves got the better of me.
    I’m the sort of of writer who likes to work behind the scenes.

    • That’s really interesting. I’m sure there are many who feel like that. Do you think, if the opportunity to speak on the radio arose again, you’d decline? Or would you be less nervous next time?

  • Honestly Alex, I didn’t enjoy the experience at all. I was so nervous, it came across in my voice. I wasn’t a good guest for an audio interview!
    Just to add to this dream of being a best selling novelist – if you’re lucky enough to hit the big time and become a well- known name, the publishers will expect you to churn out a book a year, as it’s now your living.
    Then, as time passes and because you’re famous, you’re allowed to trot out low quality work. Agents/ publishers won’t say anything, because you’ve become their cash cow. I’ve stopped reading and buying several novelist’s books because of this.

    • Whenever I’ve heard myself back on things like this – speeches, radio – I’ve always thought I sounded more nervous than others did. It’s very easy to be self-critical, but if it’s not for you it’s not for you, and there’s nothing wrong with that at all. I don’t enjoy it either.

      And yes, very good point re: success as a novelist.

  • I agree with all of this, Alex. I imagine there’s an awful lot of pressure attached to being a ‘successful’ novelist or writer of any kind and of course, you’re only as good as your last book. You can be dropped by your agent or publisher at any time, which is a scary place to be! I don’t really have any desire to be rich and famous from writing (good job, eh?) – my aim has always been to earn a living from writing but that’s still very much a work in progress!

  • Super glad I don’t have to worry about any of these things – I write for pleasure.

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