This was a phrase I first heard when doing my MA in Creative Entrepreneurship. Another student (actor, journalist, singing teacher and all round entrepreneurial badass Steven Sparling) gave a talk on what success in the arts might look like.
I had never heard the phrase this way around. It’s usually:
We’re here for a good time, not a long time.
It’s a pretty great song from Trooper. And it works when we apply it to life, because we aren’t here for a long time, in the grand scheme of it, so carpe diem and all that.
But you can’t apply that philosophy to your career, and you certainly can’t apply it to your writing.
If there is one thing I’ve learnt about what being a writer is about, and what being a successful writer might look like, it’s that miracles are achieved through consistency. The same as everything else. The consistent drop of water that steadily cuts through rock. That’s what writing it.
Everyone dreams of big windfalls, of those big sparkling moments. Of being signed, receiving an advance, getting an agent, holding your printed book in your hands, doing signings…these are not the things that make a writer. The thing that makes a writer is writing. The person who has been doing this day in, day out for the last however many years. The person who has been finishing books, getting them out there, and getting right on to the next one. Everything else is just decoration.
I’m not saying those things aren’t exciting – of course they are! But what determines whether you will be a successful writer is not getting a whole heap of promotion or thinking one book is going to change your life. Everyone holds up Harry Potter as the example of good publishing and writerly goals – Harry Potter does not happen to everyone. And even when it does, the hysteria and love didn’t build to hugely famous levels until book three. You know why? BECAUSE SHE WAS CONSISTENTLY WRITING THEM.
I have made sacrifices to live this writing life. Whilst my friends and other people my age are buying houses and starting families, I’m still scraping along with my Mac book that’s missing keys, and ignoring how there is entirely too much mould in my flat. And yes, that’s my choice. That’s not because I think I’m one day going to write a bestseller and my life will change forever (though seriously, a film deal wouldn’t go amiss) but because I believe the slow plod of perseverance, increasing my back catalogue and improving as a writer, will eventually lead to a slightly more comfortable life. And if not, well, I lived the life I wanted and told the stories I was passionate about.
I’m not here to burst your bubble or spit on your dreams, but I think the media promotes an idea of ‘the book deal’ as the end of the story. We see stories about celebrities like Zoella making millions, when the reality is, even prize winners and highly respected authors who write the books that surprise and overwhelm us, people who write the books we love, don’t make that much money.
So the question I invite you to ask yourself is this:
Are you here for a good time or a long time?