I read a rather good blog post recently by Anthony Neil Smith (who, if you haven’t read him before, should be bought and read more widely). In it he wrote about why he has felt like quitting writing recently (although he obviously gives the reasons why he hasn’t). Smith could probably be categorised as a small-level writer, but one who (with between 5-10,000 regular readers) seems to bumping his head on the ceiling that will take him up to the next level. What this means is that his books sell, but not quite well enough to make his living from it. But the real feeling I get from the piece seems to be his frustration that he keeps hitting his head on the ceiling without actually breaking through it, so that he can ply his trade amongst the big hitters, or at least among bigger hitters.
I understand these frustrations but at a much lower level. In fact, my frustration stems from the fact that my readership doesn’t seem to be growing but declining. Sales of The Hunters in its first year were less than The Gamblers (I had hoped it would be the other way around). Sales of The Greatest Show have been… spectacularly awful (I think aside from a very small cadre of regular readers, and a few newbies, nobody has bought it). I would kill for Smith’s sales, I would be ecstatic with his level of readership. Hell, I’d kill for ten per cent of his regular readers, if I’m completely honest. At least it would feel like I’m getting somewhere.
Then I realise it’s all about perception. Every writer perceives their plight differently. We all have our frustrations and we all think about quitting the writer’s life at some point, for reasons that seem entirely reasonable to us but might seem melodramatic or whiny to those who don’t write, or those who have it worse than us.
I think we writers are, by breed, a frustrated bunch. Frustrated about our sales, frustrated by how our latest writing endeavours are doing (my new habit of stockpiling projects is certainly annoying the hell out of me), frustrated upon re-reading the old ones, frustrated that the plans we’ve made end up somehow shittier than we had anticipated.
And then I think of a writer who wrote one of the finest, funniest novels of the last fifty years (a piece of brilliance that I will never have in me), and killed himself because he couldn’t get a home for it. When I think of John Kennedy Toole and Confederacy of Dunces I realise it could be a damn sight worse and I should stop feeling sorry for myself because… I’m being an arsehole.
It could be worse.