‘Writing is magic, as much the water of life as any other creative art. The water is free. So drink. Drink and be filled up.’ Stephen King
In interviews you often hear authors say how they’ve always wanted to be a writer, or that they’ve written all their lives, starting from the time they could pick up a pencil or crayon or felt tip pen. I wasn’t one of those. I came to writing later in life. Well, novels anyway.
That worried me at first. The whole starting late thing. Until I read about others who had started even later than I had, after a lifetime of doing other things. Lee Child wrote his first novel at 40, after being fired from his job in television. He seems to be doing okay…
I did enjoy writing stuff occasionally as a kid–letters to Grandma and Grandpa, short stories for English class, that sort of thing–but it wasn’t something I did all the time or with any notion that I would be doing it forever or that I would one day make a living from it. Hell, I was a kid; I didn’t know what making a living meant. What I did do constantly, voraciously, passionately, and any other ly word I can come up with (they’re called adverbs–I hope–and like adjectives, they’re apparently totally, utterly, and unquestionably evil), from as far back as I can remember, was read. A lot. Have I made that part clear? Good. Let’s move on.
As a child I don’t recall ever really thinking about what I would someday become. Except, of course, when I followed the film- and TV-induced thought patterns of most boys my age. When I watched cop shows, I wanted to be a cop. When I watched fishing shows, I wanted to be a fisherman. When I watched Happy Days, I wanted to be The Fonz. Everyone wanted to be The Fonz.
I did eventually become a cop, and a fisherman (briefly), soldier, fireman, cleaner (janitor, for you Americans), cook, and a few more I can’t fully remember. I even drove a high end corporate style taxi for eighteen months (not one of my better decisions in life). Speaking of which…
…this one time (at band camp–kidding) I was short-listed to carry Emily Deschanel (main chick off Bones) around for a week to radio stations and TV studios etc while she promoted her show. Unfortunately for me, my girlfriend at the time worked in the cab company’s head office, and she put the kibosh on it. For me, anyway.
So yeah, it’s safe to say I spent the first couple of decades of my working life doing things I perhaps wasn’t entirely happy with or suited for. I’ve heard it referred to as ‘late development’ or ‘late blooming’. Hippies might call it ‘finding yourself’. My parents’ generation probably call it ‘pissing about with your life ‘ or ‘sort your shit out you simpleminded idiot’. I think it’s just life playing itself out.
So in 2003 or 2004 (I can’t believe I just started this, and the last paragraph, with So. What’s up with that? Everywhere you look people are doing it. Next I’ll be typing Like…whateverrr…). So in 2003 or 2004, aged 30 or 31, with no idea at all of how to do it, I decided to write a novel. Reason? To make lots of money and hopefully prevent the crap relationship I was in at the time from ending. Brilliant plan right? The short outcome? I wrote a few pages of incoherrant garbage (which I now know is called ‘the first draft’ and is okay to be incoherrant garbage), my relationship ended, I left my job (cop), and trashed the whole ‘writing thing’ as the latest embarrassing farce in a lifetime of embarrassing farces.
Fast forward a couple of years to around 2006, where I found myself in a shiny new job (cab driver), and in desperate need of an extra curricular hobby. My first thought was to learn a musical instrument. Guitar probably. Cheap to buy, easy to carry, great for pulling chicks. I could definitely see myself sitting at a beachside campfire with the perfect crimson sunset, surrounded by babes in bikini tops and Daisy Duke shorts, watching me dreamily while I strum out tunes from The Eagles. But oddly (and kind of annoyingly, as I liked the whole beach scene idea), the ‘writing thing’ kept popping itself up in my head…photo-bombing my guitar fantasy selfies. Okay, I thought, why not have another crack? Who knows, I might just sell the occasional short story…make fifty bucks here and there…upgrade my wine selection from four dollar bottles to six dollar bottles. Only this time I’d learn how to do it right; increase my chances of making that extra cash and buying that upscale wine. So I went online and looked around for a correspondence course in creative writing. There were many on offer, but one stood out from the rest. I liked the look of it for two reasons.
One. The office was situated in the same city I was living in, which meant I could drive there and pick up the material right away, instead of waiting for it to arrive in the mail. When I’m ready to go, I’m ready to go.
Two: The website made it perfectly clear that the feedback they gave would be honest, however dream-killing that was. Call them the ‘Simon Cowell’ of online correspondence. If in the first few assignments they could see that you didn’t really have the goods, they would encourage you to learn something else. Origami perhaps. Or the flute. As hard as it is, I prefer to be told the truth, even at the expense of my feelings. It’s the quickest and most effective way (in my opinion) to learn about yourself and get better at what you do. So I drove to the address on the website and picked up the course and took it home and got started.
I completed the first few assignments and sent them in, wondering what to try next if (when) they came back and told me I was shit.
They came back. And I discovered a couple of things.
First. It turned out I wasn’t shit. Apparently I had some talent. Who’d ‘ve thought.
Second. I realised then and there what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. Irrational, scary, exciting, but there it was.
Just like that.