There’s a common misconception that if you’re a writer, it logically follows that you must be loaded because you obviously sell a lot of books. It also seems to be the common perception that if you’re a well-known writer you must be a millionaire because all your books are likely being turned into TV or film adaptions. Subsequently, if you’re a lesser-known writer who has a full-time job and writes in his or her spare time, then you’re not a serious writer at all — you’re merely playing at being a writer.
I find this to be of extreme frustration.
Among the first questions people always ask me when they discover I’m a writer is:
- “how many books have you sold?”
- “do you make a lot of money?”
They don’t actually get that I don’t write to make serious amounts of money (and by that I mean tens or hundreds of thousands of pounds). Sure, I make money from all my books; I make enough to put back into promoting my work or a damn good meal in a nice restaurant. I don’t make enough to buy Lamborghinis or yachts and nor am I trying to.
The reason I write is simple, unbelievable and unremarkable: I enjoy it. I don’t consider it a hobby. For me, it’s a second career (the one I really enjoy) sustained by the earning of money from another source. Going fishing is a hobby; writing is a serious compulsion.
In an ideal world, yes, I would be a full-time writer. I would be sat by my private pool somewhere sunny, churning out thrillers and travelling the world while raking in royalties and selling my book rights to Hollywood. But that’s not realistic because if I wasn’t enjoying it, it would just become another crappy job and therefore a chore I would rather avoid. The only way, therefore, is to continue writing while I do enjoy it; anything that happens thereafter is merely by chance.
Ian Rankin once told me over coffee that the only difference between me and him was that he’d been writing longer, had gotten good at it, and had sold more books than me. He didn’t set out to be a world-famous writer; he just wrote. And that’s why every book he writes must be better than the last, at least in his eyes, for when that burn to create disappears, so too will the book sales and so too will the royalties.
It’s the same for me. Each novel I put out simply has to be better than the one before. I have a desire to learn from each book and develop as a writer. It’s something I take so seriously, I’m actually prepared to devote months of time and effort into learning my craft and improving how I construct a story, then writing it down.
When people don’t see this because they think it’s a game I play in my spare time and not something to be taken seriously, or assume that I simply fart around with all those words and therefore cannot possibly be any good at writing, the frustration grows further and further.
So I’ll keep writing while that creative fire is there. For it’s not being a good writer that makes you rich it is merely luck. To be truly rich one must be true to oneself, and for that to remain true I must do one thing: write the books I want to write and appreciate those moments when some unknown person approaches me and says: “hey, I really liked your last book…”
It’s not a game, it’s quite serious. And with each book I write, I get better and better which results in more and more enjoyment. Whether I get “lucky” by other peoples’ perceptions is not up to me — in my opinion, I already am.