When writers come to give talks to writers’ circles they always sound bright and jolly, and, if I’m totally honest, just a touch arrogant. They rant on about how many books they’ve sold, how clever they are, and they always slip in the fact that agents and publishers get five million prospective books delivered to them every morning, and take on one new author ever 20 years. They then pause, smirk, and wait for the adoration to come. Which it often does, in grovelling slimy questions that make you cringe. The worst, I think, is ‘Where do you get your ideas from?’ These, ‘successful writers’ never fail to make you feel as if they’re published and you’re not and you never will be. That you haven’t got a hope of doing what they have achieved and they’re thoroughly enjoying rubbing your face in your failure. One successful author seriously said to me, “Oh to have any success you absolutely must get an agent. Of course it might take you 20 years to find someone. . .”
There’s another kind of speaker at writers’ circles. They usually have a hobby such as white-water rafting, the ancient rites of an African tribe, or perhaps an obsesssion about a long demolished building. They self-published a book about the ancient order of Foresters, or the disused canals of the Midlands, because it’s their life obsession. Needless to say, they sell hardly any of their books, but to have an audience listen to them – any audience, even if they’re day patients at the local mental hospital, to them, is a joy. They go on and on. And on.
Once we had a top agent come and give us a talk. He was a rather cold-hearted character, who spoke fast about his discovery of a bestselling author, all the while staring hard over our heads at some interesting spot on the wall. But, actually, he did give us some very good advice. Needless to say, he finished off by saying he had twenty million manuscripts a second winging their way towards his office all the time, and he hadn’t taken anyone on since 1972. But I wasn’t listening by them. He charged off quickly at the end, grabbing the cheque with the alacrity of a pickpocket on speed and giving us pathetic ‘no hopers’ a final, sneering leer of disgust.
The fact is I think that most successful people, in whatever field it may be, usually find their own way to success. Entrepreneurs usually have lots of bad ideas before good ones, criminals probably get caught a few times before pulling off the perfect job. And writers take no notice of the gloom mongers, they just get on and do it their own way, whatever way that might be.
I hate defeatists and pessimists. In life, I think there’s no point planning everything way into the future, to the nth degree, assessing precisely what’s going to happen. Because it probably won’t. Everything might be much much better than you think, or possibly it might be worse. But, for sure, the best way to get started as a writer is to chuck away all the ‘how to’ books, tell the gloom mongers who say it’s impossible to get your book published to go and get stuffed, and just have a go and see what happens.
Take me. I like writing crime stories. Having tried and failed to get anywhere with agents I put my first onto Kindle, I think about a year ago. Learnt twitter. Did another book, put that on kindle too. Now I’m doing a third. Had a go at a regular blog.
It’s all just tottering along, very slowly, but I think and hope that my work’s gaining momentum, being seen by more and more people. And oddly enough, I started writing the Jack Lockwood Dairies blog, aiming for toe-curling mystery stories, but found I can do a bit of humour, which I never realised before, and I’m enjoying it.
The moral is don’t keep trying to learn from other people. You can’t. Just get on and do it and learn from your own mistakes. The people who tell you you’ll never succeed are the ones who never even try to start. So stuff them. Do it your own way. And you’ll succeed or you’ll fail. But if you fail, you’ll probably discover something else you never even thought of doing and succeed at doing that. I’ve often started books with the perfect plot in mind, only to abandon it halfway through, by which time a much better plot has crept into my head and completely deposed the first idea. The point is, I’d never have got the second, good idea, without first having the bad one.
If you're an aspiring writer like me, good luck and keep going. Get on and do it. Make your mistakes and put them right. Always keep my mantra at the back of your mind and keep repeating it : Anyone who doesn’t like my work is a fool.
You’ll make it in the end. Even if you don’t you’ll have had a lot of fun trying.
My work is on my website www.geoffreydavidwest.com my story blog is www.jacklockwood.wordpress.com and my books are the Jack Lockwood Mystery Series, Rock’n’Roll Suicide and Doppelganger. Twitter: @GeoffreyDWest.