One in 7 Billion

There are around seven billion people on this planet. I can’t even imagine what that number looks like, but I am slowly beginning to realise what that number of people means. What it means for the future generations, even for my own generation. What it means for the state of natural resources and for food and water supplies. And, as this is a blog about writing, what it means for me as an aspiring author.

When I was seven years old, I was chosen by my teachers to sing solo in church. This is something I would never contemplate doing now, but I did it then. I don’t know why they picked me, but I would imagine there were two factors. One: I could hold a note well enough not to make a complete plonker of myself, and two because I would do it. At seven I had the confidence to do it.

At eleven, I still had the confidence. I auditioned for the lead role in the Christmas play for the role of Babushka. Once more, solo singing was required. I didn’t get the part initially, but when a viral throat infection took hold of the lead, I got to play the part.. I was in a class of about thirty. Narrow the odds down to only girls being allowed to audition, (we’re back in the days of roles being doled out to meet the demands of the actual gender of the character rather than pandering to political correctness) and they’re pretty good odds for success.

The following year I started secondary school. Suddenly I was in a year group consisting of around two hundred kids as oppose to thirty. As the auditions for the roles in the end of year production of The Wizard Of Oz were open to all year groups, of course the odds of success diminished. Somewhat naively, I auditioned for the lead. Unfortunately, a girl in the year above landed the part of Dorothy and I was told, quite categorically, that I wasn’t up to it. My voice wasn’t strong enough and they didn’t know why I’d auditioned.

Scarred by the comments, and left feeling ever so slightly silly, I never auditioned for anything again, and other than joining a few choirs where I could blend in, I have never been on a stage since.

Now we could say what a despicable, cruel teacher to shatter my dreams like that. (Or praise them for not giving me false hope, depending on how you look at things.) Or we could tell my twelve year old self off for giving up so easily on something she loved to do. She should have pursued that dream more fervently, had singing lessons etc.. But at twelve, perhaps our fate is dictated too much by parents and the position we are born into in society. There was no money to waste on singing lessons on one daughter of five children and teachers had a tendency to only spot the high fliers. The middle mediocrity didn’t get a second glance. Not in secondary school at least. Maybe things have changed since my day, but that’s how it was. Of course we could say it was fated I would never get the part because, it transpired some years later, that Dorothy’s mother was rumoured to have been having an affair with the head teacher. Whichever sliding door scenario we choose from the above is irrelevant; I didn’t pursue singing or acting .  For me I was a little fish in a big pond and I was drowning.

In hindsight, I think the teacher did exactly the right thing. I’d had no competition at primary school, or very little at least. Life had been made easy. I don’t remember anyone being particularly  over the top with high praise. No one ever told me I could be a singer or an actress or Prime Minister one day. Those dreams were just that, dreams. Nevertheless, at primary school I was at least  encouraged and told I was good enough.  If the secondary teacher had not been quite so blunt then perhaps I’d have continued to put myself out there for auditions and have faced rejection after rejection. Would that have been better? I don’t know. Rejection gnaws away at your soul and your self esteem…

So, here I am now, twenty six years later attempting to write a novel and throw it out into the arena for the lions to possibly pull it apart and reject it. For someone to turn round and tell me: “You’re not cut out for this, go home and try something else. There are people out there better than you.” And there are times when I’m not sure I’m ready to face possible rejection, after rejection, after rejection. It would only take one person to be blunt and tell me I’m not cut out for this for me to give up. Constructive criticism to help improve I can take but, to be told you’ll not make it is something else. Because the thing is I already think that. I already think at times I’m not good enough.

And then of course there’s the odds. Now I’m not just one of thirty, or even one of two hundred. I am one in seven billion.

When I began writing this novel I told only one close friend. He gave me so much encouragement to do it, to finish it, that I did. I finished a whole draft. This friend told me how unique I was. I  believed him. After all, no one I know, or have ever known, has written a whole book. I felt special. I set about dreaming of how, maybe, just maybe, the story I had wrote would be loved by millions of children and I’d finally have achieved something great in my life.

Then I joined Twitter.

There were writers. Everywhere. They were ten a penny.  I was back at secondary school, only the pond had become an ocean.

Now, I only follow a few hundred people but I am often overwhelmed at how much they write, what they write, how they write and I can’t help but think to myself: How can I, little old Joanne Blaikie from the Midlands compete with them? I’m not on a par to compete with the masses of talent out there. I feel the same when I walk into a bookshop. I stare at the hundreds of titles and think of the hundreds of stories there are and I have just one. One tiny, not all that good if I’m completely honest, story. Don’t get me wrong, on a personal level I have achieved something. I have written a novel. But so have millions of other people. I browsed the children’s titles the other day in WHSmiths. Anthony Horowitz’s Alex Rider books have numerous titles in the series. He can churn out quality book after quality book after quality book. As can so many other authors. And so I rarely even consider myself a writer. I haven’t enough ideas in me to ever make a career out of this.

At times the sheer number of writers I see saturating the market overwhelms me. Even among the amateurs, there are so many far superior in talent to me. I’m not being modest here. I just know what good writing looks like and mine, although not dreadful, is, at best, mediocre. And I don’t have the time to sit and practise it until my fingers drop off, though I wish I did. I think to myself “how is my little tiny piece ever going to be revered enough by enough people? Maybe it shouldn’t matter. But it does. And I don’t mean for money or fame and fortune. As a writer I want to reach people with my stories and words. I write (mostly) because I want those words to be read. I also want to stand out from the crowd. Creativity and originality of thought is what drives me on.

However, then I see the abundance of talent out there, both in the published and non published world, and I look at the thousands upon thousands upon thousands of writers out there all striving for the same level of recognition, I cannot help but revert back to my twelve year old self at times and want to give up as I did after that audition. I don’t have the basic skills honed to a high enough level yet. I don’t have loads of story ideas hovering in the wings just waiting for me to wave a magic wand over them and form them into coherent sentences and, eventually, a novel. Others do. That’s the difference.

Those with confidence in their writing; those who hold faith in themselves that they will succeed and believe their cream will rise to the top come what may (whether they show it or not ) are more likely to succeed I guess, simply because they believe in themselves. I partly admire and partly despair of them. Admire and despair for the same reason: because they don’t allow the following kind of statistics and thoughts to bother them:

Presently, there are 7 billion people on this planet or thereabouts (UK population: 63 million)

When George Orwell’s novel, 1984,was published in 1949 the world’s population stood at around 2.5 billion. (UK 56 million)

In 1813, when Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen was published, the world population was around 1 billion. (UK approx 18 million)

And when Shakespeare was having his heyday, it was in the region of 400  million. (UK 4 million)

These statistics bother me all the time.

All of these writers, like me, were British. All of them are considered literary greats. Many modern writers aspire to attain the levels of greatness and recognition these few, and others like them, had. However, I wonder if perhaps those writers were considered great because there simply weren’t as many other people to compete against? There were not millions of other people aspiring to be writers for a career, because back in 1813 and 1680 it wasn’t a career option. It was something only the privileged could afford to do. The likes of me would just get on with whatever employment they were engaged in and bring up children.There were no fanciful ideas of being a novelist for the common folk such as I. Now though, society tells me to follow my dream. Making a living as an author isn’t out of the realms of possibility. It isn’t something only the rich and privileged can afford to do. Single mums hanging out in cafes can write best selling novels can’t they?

And so now everyone’s at it, whether we’re any good at it or not, because society has, perhaps rightly or wrongly, led us to believe we can do anything, if only we work hard at it and forget the maths.

Now, I’m not here to play the wicked witch of the west and dash everyone’s hopes and dreams, (my own included) but I fear a dose of a reality check needs to be thrown in occasionally. We live on a planet of seven billion humans, where we are forced to compete for everything more and more. Probability says you are less likely to be traditionally published now than if you wrote thirty years ago or sixty years ago. More people = more people writing = more competition.  (Maths even I can do.)

It is not this which concerns me though. The onset of self publishing means it is actually easier than ever to become a published author.

No, what concerns me is a saturated market. Too much choice. Too much repetition and not enough originality. Too many people all vying to be top of a pile which, despite what society and our biggest champions tell us, only a very small percentage will ever achieve. Too many titles for readers to choose from. The idea of marketing a book makes me feel sick. Why should mine be any better than the other millions out there? It’s why I doubt praise from other people so much. There is too much out there for anyone to know if mine is truly good enough.  I’m not negative, I’m just a realist. I always have been, and perhaps this is why I gave up so easily when the music teacher closed off the yellow brick road to me twenty six years ago.

 

But not to end on a sour note, the flip side of the coin is this: More people = more readers. And of course the great thing about any art form is it’s all objective. What is one person’s cup of tea is another’s poison. So, like the tin man, I take heart and, like the lion, I try and find courage. My novel will find a readership, however small, and I’ll keep heading towards the Emerald City, however arduous and long the journey.

Thanks as always for reading 🙂

 

22 Comments

Filed under Writing

22 responses to “One in 7 Billion

  1. cedrixclarke

    These statistics are in my mind daily, and the saturation of the market with mediocrity, not only in the self-published arena but also by the big publishers, make me forlorn. And yet I write, and I believe. Something changed last year, prompted by the number of readers of my writing (still pitifully few) and the feedback I received from those readers.

    It’s cliche to say that the cream will always rise to top, and it’s not always true, and yet we know that if you can really write, your chances are much higher than if it’s mediocre. I have yet to read anything by you that I would classify as mediocre. Your writing stands out in the crowd of seven billion, and now you just need a little bit of luck, as do I. It’s sad that luck is part of it, but it is. Finding the right person to read your novel at the right time so you can create a connection with that person with your words. I believe in you, and I say that as a friend, but more as a fellow writer.

  2. You’re so right. I think luck plays an even bigger part than damn hard work or indeed talent. I think that is exactly why the sheer number of people, the sheer mathematical probability that your work will hit the mark somewhere is so small, it can seem completely elusive. (I was teaching probability this week. I think that’s where this ramble has come from!!)

  3. Reading this post there are a few parallels to my own life.

    When I was at primary school I was in the school choir and I loved singing and I think I had an ok voice back then. I could hit all the high notes as far as I can remember. But one day (it was probably later on in my primary school life) I was in my class and the music teacher got me and another kid from the choir up to the front of the class to sing. The other kid was amazing, he was like the Aled Jones of our school! I was a shy kid and I was being bullied on a regular basis ( something that would follow me through my school years unfortunately) and we started to sing. I don’t know what the song was, but we both sang and everybody laughed at me and said I wasn’t moving my lips. I was , I was singing but they carried on laughing. Maybe the other kid (Aled bloody Jones) was outsinging me. But they laughed and the teachers did nothing and they carried on laughing. And guess what? I never sang again!

    Now I don’t have any aspirations to be a singer anymore but that moment kind of effected me. Along with the bullying that happened for so many years later. I guess it all affected my confidence.

    When I was about 6 I loved writing. I sat in my bedroom and wrote story after story and throughout my life I’ve just had this unexplained desire to write and to be a writer. To be honest I’ve never wanted to do anything else. But all my life I have been that little kid standing in the front of the class, singing to the sound of the laughter. I don’t know if I’ll ever become a published author but all I know is that it is all I have have ever wanted to do. When I was a kid everybody in my family supported me and my ambition to write. But as soon as I became a teenager I was faced with a whole universe of people saying i should get a ‘proper job’! This plus my lack of confidence made me go dos a different path. I’ve spent 20 years as a nurse and I’ve hated it. It’s not me but I stuck with it for the sake of my kids who needed money for food, clothes etc.

    But all the time I have only wanted to write.

    A few months ago I quit nursing and now I am giving my writing a real go. I can’t explain it but I just don’t want ( never have wanted to do anything else).
    I am giving myself a year and a half to write, to give it a real shot.

    Yes, the chances are slim abut why can’s us writers make it? Why can’t we be the next J K Rowling? The next Stephen King? The next Enid Blyton?

    • Oh wow Ally. I wish I could give up work to focus on my writing as teaching is a majorly time consuming profession and I only do it part time! I wish you all the luck in the world at your shot at writing whilst not having the day job. Yes, there is no reason why we can’t be the next big thing. I do think that sometimes but I think I’ve got to a point in life where amazing stuff really happens to me so I don’t get my hopes up!

      Bullying is the worst and I went through it a lot at secondary school. It had a detrimental impact on my self esteem which I don’t think I’ve ever really recovered from. I always half expect the looks, the pointing and the staring and ridicule. Some of my actual, so called friends in rel life still do ridicule the fact I’m writing and I’ve found myself avoiding them more and more. Sad but true. What you went through sounds awful but good on you for having the courage to really pursue your dream. 🙂 Thanks for reading and taking the time to write for such a detailed response.

  4. Luck is part of it, but you struck the nail on the head with your final bit there. There are more readers. You’ve got over 60 million in your home country, and hundreds of millions abroad that speak the same language as you, and luckily many of them use e-readers these days thanks to Amazon and Apple’s amazing products. Just keep writing. Keep believing in yourself, and keep putting it out there. A lot of us feel the way you feel, but those are the times you need to just close the browser, open the word-processor, and knock out a thousand or two thousand words and not worry. Then, when you’re riding that high from good composition, you can open the browser again and blog or promote your work. Nothing gets me motivated more than progress.

    • Thanks Kyle; yes you’re right. Once I’m in a phase of flow of writing I don’t worry so much, but right now work, parenting and life have taken priority and I have little time for completing the edit on my novel which I guess is why I get frustated and over-think this stuff. You can feel when you’e on a stop-start writing process that you might get left behind. In four weeks time will hopefully become more abundant. Thanks for reading and for your thoughts. 🙂

    • Thanks Kyle; yes you’re right. Once I’m in a phase of flow of writing I don’t worry so much, but right now work, parenting and life have taken priority and I have little time for completing the edit on my novel which I guess is why I get frustated and over-think this stuff. You can feel when you’e on a stop-start writing process that you might get left behind. In four weeks time will hopefully become more abundant. Thanks for reading and for your thoughts. 🙂

  5. Nil Desperandum.

    Of course there are hundreds, thousands, probably millions of writers out there. But they are *not* you: they don’t have the story you are driven to tell. You are unique, don’t let others swamp you.

    You also have a group of nice Twitter-mates who are rooting for you, each step of the way. Now that in itself is a powerful thing. Use that “force” to help you when it feels tough. From my observations, it seems all of those writers I follow go through difficult times whether it be writer’s block or moments of insecurity, but they keep going. Maybe that is the key to it all, the succesful ones are the those who keep going… and going… and going…

    • It’s a good thing I’m a tenacious so and so then isn’t it? I think part of my frustration at the moment is lack of time to really give writing the focus it needs. Hopefully summer holidays will rectify that soon. 🙂 Thanks Marj. “Nil Desperandum” must remember that one. 🙂

      And my Twitter mates are the best and most encouraging, so thank you all. 🙂

  6. I stumbled across your blog, on Twitter, looking for inspiration to my Moody Monday. It spoke volumes to me as I read this. I felt I was looking back in time to my experience as a child/teen/adult. I never could take constructive criticism because I was bullied and often told I was too stupid to learn anything. I took this to heart when I seen the outshining talents of others I was often compared to. Everything I loved…writing, singing, crafting, etc…I only gave a half effort to because I believed I could never master the skills. My escape was through the books I read. Then one day, it was as if God had spoke to my heart, I realized the book I was reading was written by a famous author but lacked depth to it. I felt in my heart I could do so much better. It set me on a journey to find out.
    I began by writing a novel in a week. I could whip out a short story in about six hours, if uninterrupted. Very few people were allowed the honors of reading it. I wanted to publish my novel so looked for a way to do so that allowed me to have control over everything. I haven’t published anything but did manage to find a way to hone my skills on HubPages. When HP began to take a different journey than I did, I started blogging. I still find myself holding back my potential. Those I save for my novels. I have found a confidence to achieve those things I loved and gave up. Each day is still a new journey for me.
    Reading this has given me the inspiration I was looking for. You have awakened me with your words of reality. There may be many fish in this sea jockeying for a position on the food chain but our success is what we make of it. Thanks for sharing your thoughts. I wish you the best of luck in your journey.

    • Thank you so much for your thoughtful comments. I guess this is why I write, because even if what I write can affect one person positively, then it’s worth doing it.
      I completely get what you say about constantly comparing yourself to others and so never giving 100% because of the fear of never measuring up. Regular followers of my blog will know this about me. I never feel quite good enough. But as you say, at the end of your comment, success is what we make of it and I guess also how we measure that success is different for us all. I’m so glad the piece spoke to you and thanks once more, for sharing your thoughts and experiences.

  7. When you look at statistics, it’s terrifying, especially when you realise how many books are published each year. But in the end if you want to write, you have to ignore the harsh reality (although it’s very difficult) and remember why you’re writing in the first place. Yes, it’s extremely hard to get noticed – we haven’t found the magic formula yet and we know we never will, but for us writing is like breathing. We can’t give it up, even if we wanted to. You have to ignore the people who think it’s silly – are they mocking J K Rowling? No. And she was no different to any writer who is just starting out. Finishing a book is a massive achievement. You should be proud. And don’t give up. There’s a saying that a published writer is an unpublished writer who didn’t give up.

    • As I said to a few people, I think the older I get the more tenacious I get and whereas ten years ago ‘d have given up, nowadays I’m like a dog with a bone. I may be plagued by self doubt, insecurities and an over-inflated worry brain about everything, but on this I will keep going. Like you say, once you start writing, it’s almost like breathing; impossible to stop, Thanks so much for stopping by with your comments. Much appreciated 🙂

  8. It’s like you read the numbers right out of my mind. I taunt myself with these statistics all the time. It’s staggering. How could there possibly be any room in the literary world for me? Skill seems to factor in as much as choosing numbers on a lottery ticket. It’s disheartening.

    Change the odds. Explore all your options. Self-publishing, conventional publishing, hybrid publishing (self publish smaller works while sending big ones to publishers). There’s still a handful of magazines that buy short stories too. It might be your smaller works that sell this first book.

    Sure luck is a factor, but so is persistence. Switch strategies, take your time, don’t exhaust yourself.

  9. Drew! You’re awesome. Your blog inspires me so much and it was your one last week which made me start to think about what I need to do to bring more focus here. And yes, you are so right. I am keeping my options open. At first I was dead set on self publishing, then I shifted to thinking about traditional and will still be submitting my first three chapters around as beta readers have come with feedback and I’m more ready now. But I have not put self publishing on the back burner. I don’t have enough short stories yet; time is a massive restraint, and I know people don’t think it should be, but teaching and having my nephew to care for really do take up most of my life.
    Switching strategies is always such good advice because as the famous saying goes: if you always do,, what you’ve always done, you’ll only get what you’ve always got. (Or something like that!) Thanks for stopping by and commenting. Much appreciated.

    (Oh and I didn’t read the numbers from your mind; Google is marvellous!! 😉

  10. It can leave you daunted – yes luck does play its part, but you can increase your odds by continuing to try. So many people give up when they might be a hair’s breadth from achieving their dream.

    A wise man once said (Christopher Morley I think) “A big shot is a little shot who kept shooting.” My signal to stop trying is when they nail down the coffin lid. You only get one life and if writing is what you want to do with it, then the time is never wasted. I can see from your blog that you’re a very good writer and you can see by people’s reactions to it that it chimes with people. If you keep going, keep writing – eventually you will succeed.

    • Thank you Russell. You always have words of encouragement and your own never say die attitude is always a much needed inspiration. Rome wasn’t built in a day was it? I should remember this sometimes!

  11. (((Hugs))) You so cannot give up. If someone ever tells you to, you let me know. I will come clarify the situation for them. I’ve read your writing, I know you have what it takes. Most times the people that tell you to go home, have their own issues. They hurt others in order to make themselves feel better. 🙂

    • 🙂 Thanks so much Crystal. I’ll be sending all the publishers who might reject me your way then so you can sort them out! I won’t give up. I’ve come too far. As Drew says maybe I just need to regroup and change tactics.

  12. Dee Lancaster

    Your seven year old self was right. And Cedrix is right. And you are right that you have seven billion potential readers. You are an awesome writer and the words aren’t going anywhere. Writing has no expiry date or shelf life. It’s not like being an Olympic swimmer, you can write for the rest of your life so if work and family and all of it doesn’t give you much time, just cherish the time you do have. Tommy Lasorda, a great baseball manager said ” the difference between the possible and the impossible lies in a man’s determination” and someone has to get published, no reason it cannot be you.

    • Thanks for reading Dee, and those words of encouragement. You are right, I guess I’m impatient and want everything to happen now! But it can’t because of, well..life! And it’s always good to have a goal and a dream to work towards.

  13. Pingback: The Human Zoo | Writeaway

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