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 🙂