35 years ago on this very day, I walked into a company’s rather forbidding office to start my career as a software developer. I was young, and I wanted to be a writer, but I had bills to pay and I needed a proper career and all that familiar stuff. Software engineering would keep me going for a year or two while I worked out what I was doing in life. Not that we even called it software engineering back then…
In the end, I stayed in software for the following three and a half decades. It was good in many ways: I worked with some fine people, and I enjoyed a lot of it. Back at the start, working in software felt a bit like science fiction, and to this day there is the thrill of creating some new application and running it to see what happens. It feels like software has a life of its own quite a lot of the time.
But as of today, that phase of my life is over. I ain’t gonna work on Maggie’s farm no more. I’ll still program computers, but only as a background task to feed and fund my writing. I’m no longer a software guy who writes, I’m a writer who codes to help pay the bills.
Throughout all those years, I think I managed to stay true to myself. I saw so many people lose their youthful optimism and forget their dreams. Those dreams are still there in me, and now I can give them full expression. I never gave in to become a middle-management drudge counting down the years, as many did. Ah, the slow slaughter has been terrible to watch. I turned my back on the Man, always, and carried on writing software – because it was (usually) fun and because it was good for my brain. And because it paid without me having to sell my soul. It also hasn’t been wasted time: I’ve written ten novels and had over a hundred short stories published to keep my writing dreams alive. I think I won.
I’ve also learned a few things. Here are a few principles I’m going to stick to from now on. You could even call it a manifesto.
- The best piece of writing advice I was ever given was write the next thing. However good or bad the last thing went, set it aside and write the next thing. I’m aim to write every day, and I may not always succeed, but 5000 words per week on average is doable, so that’s what I’ll do. Write the next thing.
- Don’t ever read the reviews. I’ve so often not followed this advice and dipped into my reviews. There have been lots of good ones – wonderfully, life-affirmingly good ones – but also, inevitably, some bad ones. These destroy me; knock me back for a whole day in a can’t-sleep, affecting-my-mental-health sort of way. Fuck that. Some people don’t like my books. That’s fine. Their loss. I don’t need everyone to love my work. Don’t ever read the reviews.
- Don’t compare yourself to other authors. There will always be more famous, more successful authors, and obviously they tend to be the most visible, too. How do they get to where they are? Ability? Luck? Hard work? Don’t know, but there’s nothing I can do about it. I’ll follow my own path, because no one can write my books like I can. That doesn’t mean I don’t want to be fabulously successful, too, but I’ll aim to do it my own way. Don’t compare yourself to other authors.
- Write if it’s fun. Don’t if it isn’t. I want sell books, but only if creating them makes me happy. Write if it’s fun. Don’t if it isn’t.
- Lose the fear. All this time I’ve had this voice in my head saying that other writers are better/more deserving/more skillful. They’re proper writers. Not any more; I’m as good as anyone. A damn sight better than a lot in my experience. Lose the fear.
- Write what I want. The “market” can catch up if it wants. Others write to the market, and that’s fine for them; I have no problem with that, but it isn’t for me. Formulaic books are boring. Write what I want.
- Get better. Read, learn, experiment. Ignore the doubters and take risks. Have fun. Get better.
- Sell books. Find readers who like what I do and create work they’ll enjoy. Sell books.
That’s it. And now it’s on to the next chapter. I plan to blog weekly just to let the universe know how this new phase of my life is going. Wish me luck…