If You Write Does That Make You A Writer?

On July 19, 2014

Nothing you write, if you hope to be any good, will ever come out as you first hoped.’ Lillian Hellman.

For a long time I didn’t like to call myself a writer. I didn’t feel worthy, even though I had been a journalist, feature writer, won a couple of awards. I had also written some TV-related books, a couple of which had made it into the Sunday Times bestseller list. Even when I started ghosting autobiographies I still wasn’t sure I could claim to be a writer. Not a real writer. Once or twice people told me that ghostwriting wasn’t ‘proper’ writing and I was so unsure of myself I agreed with them. I don’t feel like that now. I suppose that what I did feel was that unless you were writing novels, as opposed to ghosting autobiographies, you couldn’t really claim to be a writer. Well, for at least ten years now I have been writing novels alongside the ghosting. I’ve had a few near misses with agents picking up my work strictly on merit and giving me huge encouragement. I still remember, on the recommendation of the late Ali Gunn, sending the first three chapters of a novel to a Very Important Agent and being knocked sideways when he phoned and invited me to go and see him. He turned out to be a big character, full of confidence. He did wonders for my self-belief and submitted my novel to as many publishers as he felt appropriate. Then we waited. We didn’t actually have to wait long as he was so well regarded editors got back to him promptly. The rejections came in, one after another, but they were kindly in tone. Again, probably because he was so well respected. In the end he sent me an email that more or less said he had truly believed in my novel and felt I should not be discouraged but should write another. I was absolutely crushed. I cried! But I did as he suggested. And, looking back, the editors who rejected me were right. I wasn’t good enough. I now feel much more able than I was then. I not only believe I’m a writer, I believe I’m a better writer than I was. Practice makes, well, not perfect, perhaps, but better. Much better. There are now more ways to be published than the traditional route, more opportunities for getting your work out there. What prompted me to write about this was the piece by Javier Marias in the Independent: There are seven reasons not to write novels and one to write them. I might not have seen this had Rachel Abbott not tweeted about it, so I owe her thanks. What really struck me was the line, ‘Writing novels allows the novelist to spend much of his time in a fictional world, which is really the only or at least the most bearable place to be.’ Yes, that is it. When I’m writing fiction I spend most of my time with made-up people in a made-up world and am at my happiest. However many reasons there may be not to write novels, I feel compelled to do so – not because I think I’m going to make my fortune (although I might).  Rather, for me, the made-up world is really the best one there is. If you write, you will know what I mean.


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