Blogger and newly-published author Lucy Ayrton shares with Jericho Writers the experience of the early stages of her career and her tips on how to become a writer, but also reflects on what it really means to write and if there is a difference between writers and authors.
The first time I ever seriously called myself a writer was on my wedding day. They ask you what your job is, to put on the wedding form. I dutifully wrote “Communications Manager” down and my soon-to-be husband nudged me.
“That’s not all, though. What about your writing day?”
I rolled my eyes.
“They don’t need to have that on the form.”
“It’s your job.”
And I wrote it down for the first time. “Communications Manager and Writer.” I am a writer.
It takes a while to claim, as an identity. The line between “writer” and “not-writer” is not clear cut. I mean, I’ve been able to write since I was about five. Maybe I wrote my first story when I was seven or eight. My first poem about the same time. But I wasn’t a writer. What about when I started scribbling in my spare time as a teenager? Or when I came second in the country poetry competition when I was seventeen? Was it when I got onto my creative writing MA? Or was it only once I’d finished a body of work? People love to say that “writers write” – but that’s ridiculous, surely. Write what? How much? How well? It’s meaningless. Writer is a title that you have to bestow on yourself.
By contrast, the line between “writer” and “author” is very straightforward. When you’re published, you’re an author, and that’s that. And this is my publication week, so I’m about to become an author.
I have been looking forward to this for a very long time.
It’s emotionally very difficult being a writer. You’ve got a day job, probably, and friends and family and other commitments and a life. It’s a big ask to carve out time to lock yourself away in a room and hang around with people you’ve made up in your head. You have to do a fair amount of not-going-to-the-pub, and going-to-bed-early-I’m-writing-tomorrow-morning, and basically being less fun than you could be. It is a choice you have made, between writing and watching Jurassic Park and drinking wine with your girlfriend, and you know it. When there’s just you and the book, making these choices can make you feel a little bit… stupid. You’re painfully aware there’s no guarantee that anyone’s ever actually going to read your work. It’s easy to wonder what it’s for.
And I would always say that it ultimately doesn’t matter. The process of writing is valuable in and of itself, and the work produced has value too. I’d be miserable if I couldn’t write, and whether my work gets sold in bookshops or emailed to close friends doesn’t change that – if I didn’t write and share stories then I wouldn’t be me, and that’s why I do it. Art that isn’t sold is still art.
But I’ll be honest, when I first got my book deal, the idea that my work was going to be a “real book” was a massive lift. I felt vindicated – all those times I’d felt a bit silly for the compromises and sacrifices I’d made, I’d proved it was worth it. I wasn’t missing out on other experiences to do a kind of grown-up version of playing with my dolls – this was a serious business. This wasn’t just some scribblings sitting on my hard drive anymore. I had undeniably made something, and now people were going to read it.
I felt like “being an author” was going to change everything again. This time it would be even better, and surely I would never have to doubt myself or feel stupid ever again – because I was an Author.
I kept waiting to feel it – the rush of “being an author”. I thought it would happen when I first held the hard copy of my book. Like having a baby, I vaguely thought. I’ll hold it and suddenly feel it – suddenly understand. My author-ness will descend on me.
And it really was brilliant holding my baby book for the first time. I flipped through it and cried and took photos of it with a glass of champagne. It was such a lovely evening.
The thing is though – nothing changed. I still had to sit on my bum the next day and write the first draft of the next book when I could have been re-watching Game of Thrones. It’s not like I really needed the permission. My process hadn’t changed and neither had I. The little bit of swagger was lovely to have – a bit of spring in my step, a bit of a smirk when I opened my laptop – but essentially I am still the same woman tapping away at her laptop wearing PJs while everyone else is at the pub watching football. Writing life is exactly the same.
Ultimately, I don’t feel different. I’d assumed that it would either help, or paralyse me – the idea of a faceless audience, a crowd of people I’ve never met reading my precious words. I’d assumed that it would change things. But when I come to actually write, it’s still the way it’s always been – just me and the page and maybe an idea of just one person, who I’m telling a story to.
But then, publication is still 3 days away. I’ll let you know.
How To Become An Author: Tips For Your Writing Career
So here is some useful advice I’ve had on being a “baby-author”:
- Say thank you to everyone. I’ve read this advice from a few different people. It seems like a decent life rule in general! But also, I’ve been thanked for a positive review or a nice tweet before and it feels amazing.
- Get a new signature. You need a new signature – a different one to the one on your bank card – for signings. This is to make it harder for people to embezzle you.
- Get a uniform. A friend told me it was a good idea to decide upon an “author’s uniform” so that you’re a bit more recognisable at events and also you never have to worry about what you’re wearing. I actually already have this from my poetry career – a pretty dress plus Doc Martens.
- Think about money. It can be very easy to lose a handle on any income when you haven’t earnt from writing before. Luckily I had a hustle-heavy poetry career to teach me this. It’s always good to have a rough idea of how much you’ll charge for what (ie a visit to a school) so that if someone offers you some work you won’t be caught on the hop and agree to do a week’s worth of workshops for £10. Think about travel expenses! Also, if you’re not already a freelancer, sort your business side out.
- Make friends with other authors/book industry people. This is partly so that they can give you more helpful advice along the lines of the above. Mainly though, this is because having a network of friends and colleagues who just bloody LOVE BOOKS as much as you is a childhood dream in and of itself.
Author Lucy’s debut novel One More Chance is available now from Dialogue Books. The novel follows the story of Dani, a London prison inmate, and combines physiological suspense with contemporary women’s fiction. To learn more about how to become an author from Lucy’s perspective, have a look at her blog ‘Books and Bakes and Beverages’ here where she writes about the day to day happenings in her writing career.
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