Friday, July 2, 2010

"Well correct me if I'm wrong, gentlemen, but would you agree that we have been passing through the sea of time?"

This week, I turned thirty. Some of you, you’ll be thinking, God, he’s young. You’ll maybe wonder why this is weird for me. Or maybe you’ll remember that, too. This feeling that suddenly you’re not entirely as young as you think you are.

When I started out writing, the plan was this:

First novel in late teens/early twenties (Looking at some of the rejection letters, I think I actually came pretty damn close).

Steady career by mid twenties, full time writing by maybe twenty seven.

Writing full time (and probably acting on the side – yeah, you didn’t know I almost did the while drama school thing, did ya?*) by thirty. With my own house. And no damn money worries.

Okay, it didn’t quite turn out like that. But I think it’s a pretty modest dream (except for the acting thing, where I was likely to be playing The Doctor by now, not that whippersnapper Matt Smith**). And I think it was closer to achievable than most. So how well did I do?

Well, I was first paid to be published at 24 with my sub to Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine. I’m still awe-struck and grateful for the opportunity. And to have been published several times since then, too, is just the icing on that cake. I was published previous to this, but these were unpaid and so in terms of the dream, this is where it first started. But I wasn’t actually published in novel form till late twenties.


This is still a remarkable achievement, and I’d have to say to my teenage self that it was better to have waited. I think the 8 years on the plan gave me a huge advantage because it allowed me to experience life. Now that sounds like a cliché, but the heart of all writing is emotional honesty and I think that when I was a teenager I was too wrapped in figuring who I was to be able to empathise honestly with my characters. So, yeah, I’m glad the plan was held back.

And I’m glad, too, that I got to find other things at uni. Leaving behind English and doing philosophy worked wonders for me. Opened me up to other ways of thinking. And allowed me to interact with people. Which is actually a pretty important part of any writer’s research. More so than anything technical, I’d argue.

Part time and full time retail jobs were always part of the plan in a way. Because I had always instinctively known that a writer needs to be part of the world. And as much socialising as you get in uni, let’s be honest, students don’t live anything close to “real” lives most of the time (or was that just me?).

So things didn’t go according to plan. And I’m 30 and not yet indepently wealthy, still supporting myself with a day job. But you know what, I’ve had a blast, and I’m still having a blast.

And even though I noticed some grey hairs in my beard the other day it’s not that old either. In fact, I think despite my plans as a teenager, I think the really exciting part’s just around the corner…

*The reason I gave it up was twofold: 1) I was always more comfortable with a less in-yer-face creative process and so writing came more naturally to me and 2) I found most drama students irritatingly extroverted.

**Of course, I couldn’t be the doc and have a beard. And anyway Smith owns the part. Mind you, with the beard I could play the Master. I can do evil.


Ron Earl Phillips said...

I had one of those crazy goals too. By 30 I'd be a full time writer, competing against Koontz and McCammon, taking a notch out of King (a little one). Of course that was the plan of a 20 year old.

By 24 I was married with a kid on the way. Focus totally changed from my goals to just keeping things afloat. I wish I hadn't let go so easy, kept writing despite it all, but hey that's life and there's no rewind.

Now, however, I'm older, wiser and a completely different kind of writer. My daughter is in HS and things are stable (at the moment) and I have time to write.

Thank god there's no age ceiling on being a good writer.

Keep it up! Soldier on.

Jay Stringer said...

My dreams have changed a lot. At one stage i was going to be a comedian, but i found out that i sucked at it. Then an actor but i found (similar to you, possibly) that i LOVED acting but HATED actors. Then i just knew, for a fact, that i was going to be a musician.
Oh and a filmmaker. I actually wasn't too bad at that.

That is conveniently ignoring my brief flirtations with wanting to be a marine biologist, a paleontologist, and a fireman. Maybe a monkey, i don't know.

Through it all though, i'd always been a writer, and going back to when i was a kid at school thats what i said i was going to be. One day i will be.

Scott D. Parker said...

I went to The University of Texas at Austin to be a lawyer. I quickly realized that wasn't for me so I switched to history with the goal of being a professor. Did that through UT and grad school. Got burned out and became a technical writer. That's what I am now. My new goal is to remove the word "technical" from my title.

As to other dreams, the big one is this: I used to not want kids. Being an only child, I was never around wee ones and didn't like them. Now that I have one, I can think of nothing better than to be a dad.

SueH said...

Oh, the dreams and plans we have - till life throws a curved ball at you!

Having emerged from parenthood (chicks have flown the nest!) I've regained my life and trotted back to where my dreams were left on 'hold'.

I can either whine about lost chances and plans that never came to fruition - or I can look back at the life experiences I had as a dress rehearsal. Now the stage is mine - I'm older, wiser, less 'starry-eyed' but a helluva lot more focussed!

Yes, I can dream of one day being published (and think of my colleagues shelving 'MY' books in the library where I work!) but I still get a kick out of writing.

And anyway - if an 82-year old can get a book deal
then what's to stop me trying? (and I'm considerably less than 82!)

Bryon Quertermous said...

As someone staring 34 right in the ass and lording over a wife and two kids, I can certainly say my life hasn't turned out as planned. But I'm not a big believer in regret or second chances because, given a second chance at anything in life I'd most likely fuck it up even worse.

But congrats on what you've managed to accomplish so far with what seems to be a substandard intelligence and loose grasp of reality.