Someone asked me an interesting question on a school visit the other day. No, not ‘Are you really rich?’ (I always refer those questions to my butler.) What they asked was, ‘What’s the biggest obstacle writers have to overcome?’
I think most people would expect me to say, ‘Finding a publisher.’ I got an agent to help with this. I knew if I tried to negotiate a deal myself I’d get it all wrong and be like, ‘Here’s my new book, please publish it. I don’t expect any money. Tell you what, I’ll pay you.’ (Learning to value yourself, another obstacle!)
I went about getting an agent through a combination of research and good old fashioned stalking. I checked out agents’ websites and found one who seemed like a good fit. (Likes funny, school based fiction and, most importantly, was smiling in her profile picture – I only like smiley people.)
Then I went a workshop she was giving and basically hijacked it till she agreed to take me on. My agent helped me edit my book and then found me a publisher. So, although that involved a lot of work and a small amount of borderline weirdo behaviour, in the end getting published wasn’t the biggest obstacle.
No, the biggest obstacle I had to get over, and still have to get over every day is – me. When I sit down to write I start off cheerfully enough, tapping my way through a half formed idea, smiling as my characters start to come to life, but then somewhere, usually between five and ten thousand words, a little voice starts nagging away at me. ‘This plot is rubbish,’ it says, ‘Your characters have no depth, no one is ever going to want to read this,’ and, worst of all ‘It’s totally not funny!’
It’s taken me a lot of writing, reading and talking to other writers to realise that everyone has this voice. What makes you a writer is working on, even though the little voice is telling you to stop. What makes you a writer is getting to the end of the first draft somehow, whether it’s by eating your way through fourteen packets of chocolate biscuits, working till three in the morning or hiding from your entire family in a cupboard under the stairs. Somehow, you’ve got to ignore the little voice and get to the end. And when you do you can high five the cat and say, ‘I did it, I overcame the biggest obstacle to being a writer!’
Then, when you start your new book, you can overcome it all over again.