They tell you to never meet your heroes, they will only disappoint you. Well, there is an argument that says it may not be best to let your dreams come true, they are just as likely to screw you up if you are not careful.
I had the good fortune to come into some money, the usual story, elderly parents passed on leaving me with a not unsubstantial amount of money. Not life changing by any means but more than enough to give my lifestyle a bit of a tweak, take control and do something new with my life. I still have to do something with my life, but I don’t have to do this any more. So I quit my job with the engineering firm I had worked at for the last eight years, turned my back on the rat race and headed off into greener looking pastures, well they looked greener from my side of the fence. This wasn’t a step taken lightly, but with an already established side line in local music journalism I decided to plunge head first into the world of freelance writing. After all, what is not to like? The hours are totally flexible, you get to work largely from home, it freed up my social life, no more Friday morning work hangovers from over-indulgence at the late night rock show the night before: a free man, or so I thought.
In my mind the cliches were forming, the troubled writer, hunched over his typewriter, ashtray full of half smoked cigarettes, churning out witty prose and insightful comment, or in my case a carefree guy sat at a Mac with a cup of chai tea knocking out throw away put downs about classic rock cover bands and bemoaning loss of the heady days of The Clash. Well it’s a start. With less than a thousand poorly paid commissioned words to turn into a weekly wage I trawled the internet daily for places to earn money writing. Blogging seems to be the way to go but after a few weeks I realised that they only people seemingly to make any money from blogging are the people who write about how to make money blogging…warning: irony alert. I also came face to face with the realities of what the internet has done to our noble art form. When any spotty teen with an off the shelf WordPress package and half an opinion can call themselves a writer, the market is flooded with pre-pubescent rants and ill informed commentary. Would you call yourself a surgeon because you have a scalpel and a book on anatomy? You might be able to make the incision but I will guarantee that the patient is dead by morning!
The up shot of the internet is that there is so much content already out there, being offered for free, that even the big sites have stopped paying for material. Maybe this what you get in a society where everyone demands their fifteen minutes of fame, everyone needs their name in lights, or in this case on a by-line. Okay, lets react to this rationally. I need to stand out, I need to be better than them, I need to get noticed. Get good at your craft and get your name around, again playing into the ironic hand dealt by writing for free for the sites that I have already indicated are perpetuating the problem for writers in the first place. Still, I’m not like them, I will smash the system from within, I will storm the literary barricades, I will beat them at their own game.
So I head into the abyss. I’m writing everything, short stories, political opinion, reviews, social observations, product test reports, anything to get my name heard above the 200 million other bloggers out there. Hour after hour of pouring my thoughts onto paper and sending them out into the void, eagerly awaiting peoples comments and ratings, critique and debate, it’s a fix, it’s like a drug…the blogosphere has captured me, turned me into one of them.
Days meander by, weeks pass to the sound of the dull, hypnotic thud of the keyboard. The food has run out, empty pizza boxes are stacked up on any available surface. That’s okay, the writer as the recluse, that fits into my vision nicely. I cease to recognise my surroundings, not just because my flat, after weeks of neglect, now looks like a Terry Gilliam movie but because I now exist in a world of words and ratings, posts and comments…but money, no that still largely eludes me. There is no real day or night, I haven’t been out of the flat for weeks, I run on coffee and my thoughts are getting more shifted from reality, I am becoming a hyper-caffeinated version of Hunter S Thompson, a red wine fueled Kerouac, off the road and loosing my grip. Just another hours writing I tell myself every hour, more coffee to keep me awake, if it’s light outside I draw the curtains, if it’s dark outside I put the lights on, but day and night are just arbitrary constructs that just govern the lives of those people out there, not me I’m different, I’m a writer. I’m hearing voices from the shadows in the corner of my room and a bust of Shakespeare laughs at me from the book case. I can’t sleep and I can’t quite stay awake.
It has to stop. So I stop. I retreat back towards the light. The cold light of day. Now I wake at a decent hour, eat healthily, exercise, mediate and I feel great. The money is still proving hard to find but at least I’m alive again. As a wise man once said “Be careful what you wish for, it may come up and surprise you.” Ain’t that the truth?
It is true that writers write, but get your head in the right place first.