I’ve told my story many times on this blog. When my eldest kid was born, it was the obvious and sensible choice for me to give up work and become a househusband, while Mrs Dim continued to protect the Free World through the medium of military Human Resources management. From my point of view, I was going to become a rich and famous author while at the same time raising my child. And looking after the dog.
Me, my eldest child, and Sydney, the Prince of Dogness. He also held an honourary rank of Pilot Officer in the RAF.
I had read a great deal about writing, and I knew even overnight success doesn’t happen overnight. I knew there would be a long slog, a lot of rejections, some real dark nights of the soul, and THEN there would be accolades and movie deals. But I was prepared for the long haul. I was willing to work at this for…oh, three or four months?
They say life is what happens while we are making plans, but I’ll admit that plan making has never been my forte. That is, making a plan is easy. Closing the gap between what it says on the plan and what happens in real life? That’s the rub. I wanted to be a novelist. I had been an avid reader for years. But the stuff I wrote, the long-form novel fodder? It was SOOOOOO boring. I bored myself, and they were my ideas. Over those first few years, I tried three or four different ideas, starting out each time with enthusiasm, but then realising each one had the same failures. They were, basically, rubbish. Despite what you may have heard, that’s a bad trait in a publishing career
Time passed, and I got better at being a dad, and a little better at managing the house. I didn’t get better at being a novelist, but I did expand the number of different things I tried writing. I liked short stories. I sucked at making feature articles. Screenplays were too complicated, and required a next level amount of connections that I could never hope to get. (People will tell you that’s not true, or if it is, it’s true for any writing. I can only speak from my experience. I could sell short stories and magazine articles – not many, and not for a fortune, but I could and I did. I had no agent, and little history to show, but I sold them. Screenplays? I would have had to climb a mountain to find someone to talk to me about finding someone to help me find an agent to sell the thing.)
But in the meantime, quietly and insidiously, there were the plays.
I wrote a play for the theatre group I joined, at Mrs Dim’s prompting. They needed a script for a competition, since few groups entered the “We wrote this play” section, and it would be an automatic win. But that year, 3 other groups brought their own plays. We won anyway, because the adjudicator was impressed with my homage to Pirandelllo. So was I, because I’d never heard of him.
Then Steve and David asked me to join them in the Panto-writing exploit they had going, for the Milton Keynes Amateur Operatic Society. They offered actual money, so I couldn’t say no.
Our first co-authored show was a sell-out. As was the next, and the next. And Steve bundled our scripts and sent them off to this new online publisher for consideration. Lazy Bee Scripts took them all, and asked if we had more, so I sent over my award-winning play, plus a few others I had trotted out in case I could win another award. They got accepted too.
I still wanted to write novels. I still wanted fame and fortune, and especially the fortune part, but it turns out, I’m a playwright.
And now it’s twenty five years since I gave up on the Civil Service and tried making words my business. I’m still not rich, and I’m not famous, though that urge is slowly fading. Covid did quite a number on the Community Theatre scene that buys most of my material, and though things are picking up again, part of me wonders if my playwriting days have peaked. I hope not.
These days I carry my cat when I go walking, not a kid. I think I still have a way to go before my kids are carrying me, but you never know. I’m still trying to write new things, but my actual output has slowed tremendously.
I guess the point of this post, aside from just the “Oh my god, twenty five years? Are you kidding me?”ness of it all, is that writers are presented pretty much one path to success. The novel is the goal, the golden ticket that will carry you out of obscurity and into the bright lights. Sure, you could go be a journalist, or a screenwriter, but that’s not the “real” thing, somehow. But look, I fell into playwriting by being willing to give anything a try. It hasn’t made me rich, but it has given me a neat little side-income for stuff that I feel I would have been trying to write anyway. I’ve also picked up scriptreading work for my publisher, and it’s great to see the absolute tide of new work that comes in, somehow always new and different.
If you’re starting out as a writer, or maybe just looking around to see what being a writer is like, then for god’s sake, don’t think about where you might be in twenty five years. That’s lunacy. But try all the other stuff, whether you think it’s “proper” writing or not. You’ll only lose a little bit of time on your novel, and you may find that something else carries you away in a direction you weren’t expecting.
What I do is definitely not “proper” writing, but people pay me for it and that means I rarely have to leave my house, so I’m calling it success 🙂
For a while, pre-pandemic, my writing income was approaching my regular work income. I think that would be my goal, if I felt I had any control over the size of my writing income!