I watched – with appalled fascination – some of the early trials for American Idol. It was eye-opening to see so many thousands of young people with impossible dreams: all wanted to be stars. There were so many of them that, if all succeeded, there would be no one left to listen. No audience for tens of thousands of singers…
And some of them were beyond terrible, yet didn’t seem to know it. Some were devastated when they were weeded out, as if life was now over. It was both pathetic and frightening. Rather like reading about the poll they did of British school kids some time back, asking them what they wanted to be. By far the most common answer was “pop star” or similar; even, with delicious vagueness, “celebrity”.
That was the sum total of their ambition? Do they have any idea of what they are asking for? Any idea that it’s not the fame that’s important, but the love of music? Any idea of the hard work it normally takes to be that successful? Maybe that’s one of the attractions of American Idol or similar shows – it seems like such a shortcut. Add water and stir: instant fame, without the hard stuff. Unhappily, there are also a lot of writers out there with unrealistic expectations too. Who want the fame without the work.
So, if you want to be a writer, should you hold on to that dream? Because here’s the first unpleasant truth: not all of you out there dreaming are going to make it. Not even those of you who work damn hard. Not even those of you who have talent. Not even one in five thousand of you.
There’s nothing wrong with dreaming. But there is something else that is even more important, and you should never forget it: it doesn’t matter if the dream doesn’t come true. Why not? Because you are loving the journey. Because what really matters is the love of writing. If you don’t have that, then you shouldn’t be doing this. You’ll be like one of those young singers, dreaming not of the song, but of the celebrity.
So how can you make the dream come true?
Here’s step one and it’s the simplest one of all, and the most fun, and yet it is also the most important:
Buy New Books. Read. Teach your kids to read. Read to them at bedtime every night. Buy books for your grandkids. Give books as gifts to your friends and family. Ask for books as presents for yourself. Raise generations of readers.
Yeah, that’s right. Publishers are in a business. If they don’t make lots of money, they won’t sign up lots of new authors – of which you might be one. So that’s the first step you can take down the road to being an author.
Told you it was simple.