– Originally published in Palatinate (Comment), March 2015 –
We live in an age where novels such as Fifty Shades of Grey can be transposed onto the big screen, while less controversial works go unnoticed. From the computer of a middle aged teacher dreaming of sparkling vampires and Mary Sues, to a cinema near you, right?
Although, it’s not usually quite as simple as that, this hasn’t prevented people from dreaming. According to a recent YouGov survey, 60% of people want to become authors. That’s a pretty impressive statistic, especially considering that only 43% would like to be a lawyer. Last year, the average wage for a barrister was over £43,000 while a professional author can expect to rack up just £11,000.
But apparently there is something romantic about being an author, in a way that turning up to court each day and prosecuting the bad guys never could be. It isn’t that hard to see the point though.
Marketing. Retail. Finance. Think about how those words sound. None of them excite, do they? OK. Let’s try another one. “Inventor of Worlds.” That’s a title that only an author can claim (unless you have a secret history as a deity) and it is a pretty impressive one.
Authors get to make whole worlds out of the ‘what ifs’ that plague them at night. Have you had an especially juicy conversation down at the pub recently? That could soon become the basis for your next novel. Daydreaming is no longer just about whiling away the time, it is a way of life.
It sounds perfect, looking at it from the outside; of course it is anything but. I have a confession to make. I, like a significant proportion of the population, want to be an author.
However, from what I have seen so far, being an author isn’t a fairy tale or a dream come true. A character can break your heart just like a boyfriend can. Except, in the case of a character, no-one will tell you that you deserve better or sit with you while you eat that second tub of ice cream. After all, that character is your own creation and you should have a better handle on them than that.
It’s fascinating that so many people want to become an author despite all the highs and lows, monetary or otherwise. However, you have to wonder just what proportion of that 60% surveyed had made a conscious effort to fulfil the dream?
When I was young, I really wanted to be an ice skater. I have never, to this day, been on an ice rink. Aside from other issues, I am far too clumsy and would probably have broken numerous bones within ten seconds of stepping onto the ice. I’m not sure that it would be right to say I still dream of being a professional ice skater as I never did anything to make that become a reality.
Perhaps it is the same with being an author. People commit to the term, based on the excitement around events such as National Novel Writing Month or a fanciful notion of what it might entail and do not really think of it again. Of those people who would love to be an author, only a small proportion attempt it. Estimates vary on what percentage of those will finish their novel but let’s just say it’s really low. Maybe that has something to do with the way in which people perceive the job of a novelist. You wouldn’t sit down in front of the piano for the first time and try and perform a symphony. Neither would you grab a canvas and attempt a copy of the Mona Lisa. By the same logic, complete beginners wouldn’t attempt to simply write the next Harry Potter.
But they do, and sometimes it ends wonderfully. Other times, stories emerge that may simply spend their life languishing on online writing websites. Either way – as long as the story is shared.
It is hard to tell what constitutes an author nowadays with the Internet and the rise of
fan fiction making it so much more difficult to identify where that line in the sand is. If a very odd BDSM Twilight fan work can achieve millions of copies then could a witty Harry Potter and Come Dine With Me combination expect the same praise? Would its creator even be considered an ‘author’? Maybe someone should write it so we can find out. Any takers?