Belief, particularly of the “self” variety, seems entirely central to the would be professional, or semi-professional, writer.
The unpublished and unfeted must believe that their creations will prove worthy of the attention and regard of an imagined readership. The published, and even the celebrated, must believe their next book will be as well received as their last.
Now the latter may well have more cause to believe, having the evidence of past success to draw upon. The world, however, evolves with conspicuous acceleration; people change. The crowd who raved over the work of a year past, may not exist for the follow up.
Don McLean, held in no mean regards as a songwriter, has spent almost 50 years best known for two songs. If that can happen to the dude who wrote ‘American Pie,’ no one’s safe folks. That’s not the worst of it either; the sound of breaking hearts echoed worldwide as readers stared, disbelieving, at Harper Lee’s sequel.
Maybe, you say, the solution is to do away with belief, and rely purely on the empirical. No believing, just seeing.
You can, for a start, become formally educated in how to be a writer. You can, for a price, be taught the distilled wisdom of academics who have analysed the great and successful. Published alumni will be proudly paraded as a testament to the formative powers of the programs on offer. Our latest Nobel prize winner for Literature, Kazuo Ishiguro, is a graduate of the UAE himself.
Yet thousands of graduates emerge from institutions each year, armed with their certificates, diplomas, degrees and even doctorates in creative writing. Each year, thus far, we have yet to see a commensurate birth of published, successful authors.
So, OK, formal education may help, but no guarantees. If we’re going to write without it, we’ll need more.
Thankfully, to the belief rejecter, more is at hand. Bookshelves, virtual and traditional, are packed with ‘genre’ works, and the current vogue for debut novels featuring urban noir shows no signs of dying yet. Other shelves heave with Erotica, Wizards, Witches, Werewolves, and hormonal teenagers involved with each, or all. The internet is awash with ‘how-to’ guides, to show you the way to make your own commercially viable genre work.
Yet for every Anna Todd, there is a countless horde on Wattpad writing erotic fiction about boy bands who are not getting book deals.
So, OK, so even the most cynical of approaches to constructing fiction can’t ensure success.
This all goes for you non-fiction writers too, by the way, every year textbooks flop miserably. The most structured, niche-defined work possible can still be a dud. If you’ve ever looked into how academic texts are produced, you’d know that the process is arduous and laborious. Everything is defined with military precision, the niche, the USP, the market institutions and bookstores, the style, the art work; every little thing. With all that expertise levelled at making a saleable project, even then, books flop.
What about Copy-writing you ask me? Well yes, it’s true, you can achieve sufficient competence in forms of writing, that you can write to order, often for marketing purposes (though not always.) You can, even, be paid for this work in real money, and not just exposure (gasp!) Yes, intangible qualities of style, and voice remain to some extent, but greatly tamed by format.
That is, technically, one form of being a professional writer. It may even make you, and others happy. It is, however, I suggest, a far cry from the classical idea, and youthful dreams many have of authorship.
The empirical simply can’t give us the guarantees we might want. What’s left?
Self-belief. Belief that what you’re writing is worth the attention of others, and, ultimately, their hard earned pennies.
Belief that your low readership, or lack of acceptances, is only a prelude to success.
Belief that the work you’re doing right now, could be a masterpiece.
Belief that will sustain your motivation until the evidence, the success, arrives. Belief that will sustain you between the successes that follow.
Maybe those successes, however, will never arrive. This particular flavour of belief, the mostly unsubstantiated kind, is a stand in for surety, not a synonym.
For every “Million dollar blog”, there are so many more “no dollar” blogs, that were created with no less ambition.
It gets worse though fellow travellers.
Hugh Hefner seemed to genuinely believe he was an author of female sexual emancipation. E.L. James presumably believed she wasn’t out to set back feminism decades.
Self-belief it seems, can even blind us to abject failure.
Be duly warned then, that self-belief must be tempered in the fires of rationality. Yet there’s nothing for it, we must have that self-belief, however rationally based.
Nothing less will span the bridge from ambition to realisation.
Self-belief isn’t a nice thing for a would be author, it isn’t indulgent; it’s essential.
If you turn out to be the next Hugh Hefner, however, I take no responsibility. I didn’t say you needed to be an asshole too.
We’d all better enjoy the fruits of the journey then, in hopeful expectation of the destination. If we can do that, then our time will not have been wasted, no matter the outcome. Something I’ll return to another time, when I’ve gathered sufficient experience to write from!