This morning I was over on kboards and I came across a thread where a young fellow asked the kboard folks to read one of his stories in order to determine whether or not he ought to write full time.
Here’s how I answered that question.
I used to know this old fellow who played the violin. He had records out and his picture in the newspapers and the Queen even curtsied to him once or twice, or she might just have dropped her hankie.
He told me about this second fellow who walked into his studio one day and begged the old fellow to just listen to him play, just once.
“Just tell me if I am good enough to play professionally,” the second fellow begged.
So the old fellow said okay and he listened while the second fellow played.
Was he any good?
How the heck should I know? Remember, I’m just telling the story here. My ears were nowhere close to the second fellow’s fiddle.
“Was I any good?” the second fellow asked the master violinist, who always preferred to be known that way rather than just calling him “the old fellow”.
“You lack the fire,” the master violinist said.
Well, I guess ten years later that second fellow ran into the master violinist in the street.
No, he wasn’t driving a car when he ran into him. He was just walking and he was grinning ear to ear.
“I want to thank you for telling me that I did not have the fire,” the second fellow said to the master violinist. “I have put away my fiddle and now I work for the tax bureau and I own a house and I have a wife and three fine children and I am happier than ham and eggs.”
The master violinist gently chuckled.
“You need not thank me,” he said. “The truth is I tell that to everybody who plays for me. I always tell them that they lack the fire.”
The second fellow was horrified.
“You rotten-eyed son of a bear,” he swore without swearing. “You told me that and I gave up my fiddle and if I had not listened to you I might be a master fiddle player right about now – or at least a pretty good one.”
“That’s just it,” the master violinist said. “If you DID have the fire you wouldn’t have listened to me in the first place.”
I’m telling the story – not to be a wise guy although I do have a third level black in wise-guy-sery.
I’m just telling it because I’ve been to tell it out for some time now. I’m going to post it up on my blog so that all three of my loyal readers, counting my cat, can read it and chuckle – because a chuckle is better than a cup of coffee to start your day with.
Let’s get serious for a minute.
It would be nice if everyone here read your story and said you were brilliant – and maybe you are – but my advice to you would be to keep on writing the way that you are for awhile. Do NOT give up the day job until you have built up a little bit of a cash mattress in your savings account, like about a year’s worth of expenses. Meanwhile, keep on writing your books.
The REAL barometer that you need pay attention to will be your bank account. If you start seeing three or four pre-decimal-point digits worth of deposit falling into your account from your writing THEN you ought to ask yourself the question you are asking today.
If you go to work and tell your boss what you really think of him right now, odds are you are going to be so stressed out in a month or two when you are writing as fast as you can and collecting up a heap of collections noticing and wondering if you can hook up a hamster to your computer because the power company has pulled the switch…and you are going to suddenly find yourself too stressed to write.
Don’t be in a hurry.
If you are good enough – and LUCKY enough – you will get to where you want to be with your writing.
Think about your first book as being your first date with the most beautiful woman on the planet who knows how to cook. This ISN’T the time to start making forever plans and calling up a caterer and rolling up pennies for an engagement ring.
Take it slow.
Writing is a marathon, not a sprint. Give yourself time and build up a strong back catalogue and then when you have five or six or eighteen or twenty big fat zombie novels (or whatever you decide to write) rolling in those three or four or five digit monthly checks THEN think about pulling that pin.
Most of all just try and have fun with it for a while.
Now let me tell you folks about a time when I asked myself that question.
I was working at a factory job pushing about ten to fifteen thousand boards a day into a double-bladed table saw that was affectionately known as “The Death Machine”.
I mean that it looked like something out of a Roger Corman flick.
Well, I guess I had won myself an Arts Council grant – or it might have been a Canada Council grant – I can’t remember which. I have bagged a couple of each of those over the last forty years and they kind of blur after a while.
Whatever it was, it was about three thousand dollars, which seemed like a lot of money way back then.
Then something bad happened.
I started thinking – which is GENERALLY a bad situation rapidly getting worse.
I decided that I was going to write Harlequin Romances for a living. I had heard that you could get rich by writing them and I figured all that I had to do to pay my bills was to sell about four of them a year. At that point in time Harlequin was putting out a huge amount of books every year so my theory looked plausible on paper.
The only problem was, was that I could not write a Harlequin Romance to save my life. Sooner or later John would be looking at Mary and some swamp monster would come oozing up out of the haunted swamp and this gang of bad-ass bikers would come roaring in town with machine guns blazing and a kamikaze pianist would pedal his piano into down and start banging out show tunes.
Or to sum it up – I sucked at writing romance.
I walked away from the Death Machine and I wrote all summer long and I wound up with a horrifying Harlequin romance that did actually warrant a hand-written rejection letter that along with a whole lot of “There, there dear.” and “Well that wasn’t TOO bad.” basically said what I should have known in the first place.
Don’t be in a hurry to give up your day job.
yours in storytelling,
PS: if you want a FREE kindle copy of REVENANT – the first book in the TATTERDEMON trilogy – it is on for free today only.