Photo credit: mrbill78636 / Foter / CC BY
Welcome to a new feature on the site: Interview With A Writer! I’ll be featuring various writers and authors here, asking them about their trials and tribulations on their way to being a professional keyboard-tapper. Make sure to check out their websites and their books afterwards, and follow them on Twitter and Facebook and whatever else they use! (You can follow me too while you’re at it)
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I have always been a writer but recent life events have convinced me that the time is right for me to become an author. ‘Six Months To Get A Life’ is my first book. It is a work of fiction but the emotions experienced by the principal character are familiar to me. Like Graham Hope, I am a 42 year old dad of two who is determined to pursue his dream of becoming a published author. I currently hold down a full-time job but am determined to make a success of ‘Six Months To Get A Life’. I have ideas for follow-up books charting subsequent challenges in Graham’s life. As a first step in promoting my writing I have this month become a late adopter to Twitter @benadamsauthor and the world of blogging www.benadamsauthor.com
NR: Going full-time as a writer can be a daunting thing. Unless you’re one of the lucky ones who got a nice advance on their next book – the ones that I’m not murderously jealous of at all – the security and safety of the regular paycheck is gone. You’re twisting out there on your own, with nothing but your talents, your keyboard and whatever stimulants you can get your hands on. Freelance writing holds a lot of the same shortfalls, especially when you’re a beginner. Do you have a career plan as a writer?
BA: I was just beginning to feel positive about my writing until I read your lead-up to this question! You are of course right, trying to earn a living from your words is a huge challenge, especially as I am not one of the lucky ones who receives an advance…
My decision to give up a decently paid full-time job to give me more time to pursue my love of writing was definitely a choice influenced by my heart rather than my head. I wrote my first book, Six Months to Get a Life, while I was still at work. I loved writing it so much that the next thing I wrote was my resignation letter.
With no clear plan as to how I was going to feed my children and pay my housing costs from that point onwards, on my first day as a full-time writer, I started writing my second novel, Six Lies.
I am just about managing to feed my children via my book sales so far, but now that I have handed my second novel, to my editor to scribble on, I am spending some time pursuing other freelance writing work. It would be nice to earn a bit of extra pocket money.
Establishing a reputation for yourself in the blogosphere or through the media is an uphill battle, but I have received a couple of commissions so far, and am working on a few more. I am particularly interested in getting into ghostwriting.
It’s a challenge to know where to start. Photo credit: Stuck in Customs https://goo.gl/rpVycO
Avoiding the scammers is a challenge. Making contacts while you are based at home is also difficult. But I am hoping that my persistence will pay off.
NR: It’s important to keep your head in the right space. It’s a lonely affair a lot of the time, I don’t care how many cats you have wandering around while you write. On top of that, you have rejections, major criticisms, lack of support from friends and family, and the article or story that just won’t pour out of your head no matter how many times you headbutt the table. How many times did you want to pack it in, and what was/were the last straw(s)?
BA: Again your description is spot on, except for the fact that my cat is actually a dog.
Writing is a solitary pastime, but that doesn’t bother me too much. Writing novels requires you to get into the heads of your characters, almost becoming them for hours on end. You can’t feel lonely when you are pretending to be a divorced dad going on a date, or a woman who meets her grownup son for the first time since he was in nappies.
While the loneliness of a writer’s life is something I can deal with, the bit I find harder to cope with is the lack of instant feedback. In an office environment, you are constantly getting told how good, or bad, your work is. As a novel writer, I get reviews and I take them seriously, but it takes months to get a novel into shape before I am prepared to share it with anyone.
You need to be strong to cope with the self doubt... Photo credit - Amy Wilbanks https://goo.gl/XNvaVs
…that inevitably invades your soul during the more challenging times.
NR: Dry spells are not just the bane of farmers and porn actors. One of a writer’s biggest fears is running out of words. Sitting/standing there, looking at a blank piece of paper or a white screen, the only words you can come up with are “The End”. As in, “The End Of Your Career And Eating Real Food”. On those days, you have to motivate yourself, to push through the empty pages and get something down. What do you do (or have you done in the past) to get yourself out of a slump, whether it’s because of a dry spell for writing, a dip in sales, or an emotional slump related to both?
BA: Six Lies, my second book, will be back from my editor within the next few days. What to do in the meantime? I could give myself a holiday (tempting but I am already going away in August so I probably shouldn’t), I could invest in my ‘author platform’ (too boring for words), or I could start thinking about my third book.
Starting a new project is exciting, but it is also totally daunting. That blank sheet of paper begins to taunt you after a while. ‘Ha, you can’t fill me up, can you? Is that the best you can do? No one’ll want to read that crap.’
So in the end, I decided to do this interview rather than start book three.
But I will start it tomorrow. Photo credit - Nils Tamlag https://goo.gl/A9AyrQ
And I will enjoy it when I get into it.
For me, I keep going because, on balance and despite the hard days, I love writing. I love the challenge of inventing stories. I love the feeling when your words make you smile and you just know that they will make readers smile too. I love creating fast-paced dialogue and great put-down lines. It’s the love of the craft that keeps me going.
NR: Most full-time writers do it for the money, but I’m sure that none of them would turn down being a household name. It’s all well and good to say that you’re doing it for the love of the written word. However, literary integrity doesn’t have enough calories to get you through the day, nor is it warm enough to wrap yourself in when the heat and power gets switched off. How long before you started making a name (and a decent living) for yourself as a writer? If you write full-time, when did you make the leap?
BA: Without going too far into the world of clichés, becoming a successful author is a journey that I am only a few steps into. My sales figures are good some months, but less pleasing the next month. They are better in some countries than in others. In short, I am not where I want to be yet.
I need to be able to pay the bills through my writing, but my ambition is broader than that.
I want the world to read a Ben Adams novel. Photo credit - Untitled Blue https://goo.gl/bljJZp
I want to get to a point where I receive feedback on my writing every day, be it via Amazon, Twitter (@benadamsauthor), Goodreads or some other means.
Over the next few months, I hope to take some more big steps towards achieving my ambition. I am being featured in a documentary on the BBC, my second novel will be published and , once I stop procrastinating, I will start work on my third. Hopefully this will supercharge my journey.
NR: Anyone who has struggled to get where they are today learned some lessons along the way. Usually, these insights were gained through making glaringly dumbass mistakes and overcoming failure. There’s plenty of material out there for writers to avoid making the same mistakes, but some people have to figure it out for themselves, because stubbornness is an authorly trait. Besides, defeat and redemption makes for a good story. What would you have done differently in your formative years as a writer?
BA: OK, I have been asked a similar question a few times. Here are the top three lessons I have learnt during my author journey.
Believe in yourself. If you don’t believe in yourself as a writer, then no one else will. That means listening to criticism and developing a thick skin, but also celebrating your successes. Pin that great review to your wall. Toast each 5* review with a glass of wine. A lack of belief in my writing delayed me from taking the plunge for at least a decade. I would start work and not finish it because I didn’t have that inner belief in my own ability that a writer needs.
Once you believe in yourself, write, write and write some more. Photo credit - mugfaker http://goo.gl/9cRjDX
If you are an aspiring writer, stop wasting your time reading crap from idiots like me who think they know it all and start writing. Stop thinking there will be a magic writing course that will turn you into a bestseller overnight. I wasted plenty of time and money on the writing industry before I just got on with writing.
Invest in your author platform and social media profile well before you have finished your first book. I didn’t find the book marketing process particularly exciting so I didn’t get involved soon enough. Hence I was playing catch-up for a while.
NR: Looking back now, what was the worst part of your writing life that you laugh about today? Are there still some things that make you cringe just thinking about them?
BA: Looking back on it now, my first attempt to write a book, some fifteen years ago, was pretty embarrassing. Can I laugh about it today? No, not really. But everyone has to start somewhere, don’t they?
Some of my early dips into social media were pretty embarrassing too, but once you realize no one actually reads what you write on twitter, it’s hard to get too worked up about it.
Not everything you try in your writing career will come off.
But the important thing is not to give up trying.
Thanks to Ben for sharing and not calling the feds when I reached out to him. Check out his book, Six Months To Get A Life, and keep an eye out for his next one, Six Lies!
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