Ah, Sunday nights. Stanley Turrentine is caressing the speakers, my ginger beer bottle is empty and the rain is tip-tapping on the attic window. It must be time for some philosophising!
Some years ago (i.e. in the old days), I was a product launch manager for a project that wasn’t going well. In fact, this particular project was in such poor health that – for a number of reasons – I was already planning the pre-launch recovery and the post-launch recovery too. While I was running around from team to team, trying to get people to do what they should have been doing the first time, a senior manager called me over and commiserated with a smile, adding, “When you’re up to your arse in crocodiles, it’s hard to remember you’re supposed to be cleaning the pool.”
Writers not only create fictional worlds for our characters, we also create fictional worlds for ourselves – whether we write fiction or not. Largely self-motivated (allowing for bills, luxuries and kudos), we set goals and decide on destination points that are really, often, quite arbitrary.
That may sound like a weakness, but it’s also a strength. Because, when we recognise that our goals are literally that – our goals – we are at liberty to change them. In other words, it’s the value we place upon them rather than any objective value.
Ever been here?
Halfway done novelists want to finish their novels.
First drafters want to get through a complete edit.
Third drafters want an agent, or a publisher.
Contracted writers want a lucrative deal, or significant sales – preferably both.
Second novelists want book number two to be better than book one, and better received.
Every aspiration is perfectly reasonable, but how often do we examine what lies behind it?
Here’s a case in point. I’m also a freelance writer and one of the sites I use is People per Hour. (You may have noticed the ad on this blog!) Their blurb suggests that, on average, Cert5 writers earn four times more than Cert4 writers. And, by inference, Cert4ers do better than Cert3ers.
I mention all this because I recently reached Cert4. The algorithm is a dynamic one so here’s a screenshot in case I’ve slipped back a little by the time this post is out there.
Cert4 is good, but what does it actually mean? I’ve seen the pages of some Cert5 writers (what, like you thought I wouldn’t check out the profiles of competitors?) and some of them charge £3 per hour. So Cert5 doesn’t guarantee a high rate. I’ve also seen some jobs go to a Cert2 writer even when a Cert5 has also submitted a bid. So Cert5 doesn’t guarantee a competitive advantage.
As the man said on TV recently: correlation does not mean causality.
To return to the world of books, goals are important. Without them, we’d never get past the tyranny and adventure of the first blank page. We may lust after or lament the achievement of others, but there’s no value in that. It gains us nothing, and for every writer looking at the rung above there are countless more looking up at them.
What values then might be valuable to most if not every writer?
Here are a few ideas…
1. Value your words by getting them down, no matter how frivilous, or how amateur they seem to you at the time.
2. Value your time by carving out writing time, every day without exception.
3. Without exception, always have some way of capturing your thoughts – a pen and paper, recorder, tablet, till receipt and pencil, or whatever you can think of.
4. Think of the journey ahead, but stay in the moment. Books are written page by page. Sometimes it flows like honey; other times it’s like hand-to-hand combat with the English language.
5. The English language is your friend. Its rich dversity gives you limitless ways to express yourself. Revel in that and strive to find and express your own voice.
None of the above values will guarantee you literary success, happiness, fulfilment or a contract. They will, however, make you a writer. And you can’t put a value on that.