The following advice is really an open letter to myself, to pick me up when I become discouraged and need to silence the hopeless, bitter, vengeful voices. If you can take some solace from it too, all the better. Incidentally – in case you were wondering – a successful writer, in my estimation, is someone who makes a living solely out of writing. As far as I can tell, these blessed creatures are few and far between. So yes, if you want to be one of them, here’s what you need to do…
1. PERSEVERE. I could actually stop right there because this is what it all boils down to. Everything else is just ‘persevere’ wearing a different hat and blazer. But you can’t make an inspirational list with just one item in it. You just can’t.
So. I know it’s obvious but it’s absolutely essential that you remember at all times to KEEP PLUGGING AWAY UNTIL YOU DIE. You’re never going to break through into the realm of the successful writer if you give up, even after 30 years of rejection and disappointment. Besides, what else are you going to do? Get a proper job? Don’t even think it.
2. COURT REJECTION. Embrace it. Learn to feel genuine love for it. Hold it to your chest and rock it back and forth till eventually it stops sobbing and gives a tiny smile. Rejection is your friend. Maybe your only friend. Remind yourself every time you’re rejected, or more likely simply ignored, that success is a numbers game. The more you put yourself out there, the more possibilities you create. The more ideas you pitch and the more editors, agents and publishers you hassle, the more likely it becomes that one of them will say yes. And then you’re off!
3. DEVELOP A MASOCHISTIC STREAK. Similarly, if you can manage to cultivate some perverse joy from the fact that nobody wants to read your work, then every editorial snub becomes like a soft spear of hot wax falling slowly onto the soft underbelly of your ego. It stings at first, sure, but just give it a moment and … ahhhhhhhhh. That’s nice.
4. BELIEVE IN YOURSELF. There is always the chance that like those harrowing tone-deaf mutants on TV talent shows who genuinely believe they can be the next Charlotte Church, your self-belief is misguided. Do not give this a second thought. You have the voice of an angel.
5. DELUDE YOURSELF IF NECESSARY. Some might say there comes a point when you simply have to give up. Maybe 30 years and 11,000 rejections down the line, you have to face facts, accept that you simply do not have what it takes to be a successful writer and find some other basket in which to put at least some of your eggs. This is nonsense. These people are miserable, defeatist doom-merchants. Ignore them.
Keep hope alive! Believe in tomorrow. Better still, believe in later this afternoon. Lives are transformed out of nowhere every second of every day. Be sure to stop work and check your email every fifteen minutes. Just in case.
6. THROW CAUTION TO THE WIND. When it comes to writing your pitch, proposal or covering letter, be adventurous, be audacious, be outrageous. You have nothing to lose and remember, you’ve got absolutely nowhere with your standard, cautious, courteous approach, and editors read that bland garbage every day. Try a different tack. Better to stand out as a lunatic than blend into the background with all the other beige toads.
7. MAKE YOUR NEGATIVES INTO A POSITIVE. You are unique. No one has failed in your wonderfully inimitable style. Now, make like a high-functioning sociopath and mould your utter uselessness into your unique selling point.
8. DON’T BE BITTER. Send off the odd snotty email if you really can’t help yourself, sure, but forget those fantasies you have about tracking down and murdering – in a hauntingly appropriate manner – every editor who’s ever ignored you. (Like injecting silicone into flaccid buttocks of the ex-editor of Loaded.) It might have worked for Vincent Price, but the fledgling Buddhist in you would not be happy. So yeah, let it go. I was joking about the snotty emails too. Swallow it. Move on.
9. STOP READING RIDICULOUS LISTS AND GET ON WITH IT. Face facts – even if you want to give up – and you know you’ve tried – you can’t. You’re driven. And although in many ways being driven in this way is an unmitigated curse, it also gives your life meaning and without it – failure or not – you would not exist. You are defined by your desire to write, and to be read, because your ego is overpowering and because writing is just about the only thing you believe you can actually do. So just get on with it.
Or in other words, persevere, and know that one day – one day – people will be queuing up to pay for your words.
It’s only a matter of time.
(Self-belief is key.)