The Writer’s Life: Upsides and Downsides
I get to work from home.
Upside: You can write all day in your PJ’s if you want to. Washing your hair need only happen twice a week. Showering isn’t really even essential: the only person who gets to see you is the person delivering your online shopping to the door. Gas to the office costs nothing. You never commit road rage in your quest to not be late. No one monitors how long you spend on the Internet. You can take a personal phone call. Or twenty. You can do nothing all day and lie about it – no one knows what you were going to be doing anyway, so how can they punish you for things they don’t know about that you haven’t done? You set your own deadlines. You have no one sabotaging them, no one stopping you from reaching them. The sky is therefore the limit to what you can achieve. Though, admittedly, your achievements usually fall far short of the sky. Because…
Downside: Sometimes being steps away from your bed, the fridge, and the cupboard where you keep your alcohol, is a curse rather than a blessing. Sometimes you are lonely and have no one to have a chuckle with or to sound off to. The cat and the dog don’t cut it. You discover their intellectual limitations pretty fast when you attempt to take a coffee break with them and engage them in a spot of plot problem-solving, and all they do is purr at you, or give you a pair of your own socks to play tug-of-war with. Then other times when you’re far from lonely and your writing is on a roll, people won’t leave you alone. They knock at your door, peek in your blinds, try to coax you with warm cookies. They know you are in there. When you try to ward them off by insisting that you keep proper office hours, they smile that smile that says that they think you are just trying to sound like a normal person – not a kept woman – which half of the neighborhood assumes you are anyway, because you walk your dog at random hours of the day.
Once in a while you get the urge to physically harm telemarketers. Sometimes that actually feels good.
You create entire fictionalized worlds in which you get to live for the time it takes to write a book.
Upside: It’s unbearably fun when you come up with a great book idea. When after very little thought, you already have a good sense of who your characters are, of their individual challenges, and even how things will end for them. You see the book soaring up the bestsellers lists; maybe even being made into a movie. You will write this book in half the time it has taken you to write the others. You are so excited to make it all happen that you don’t even bother mapping out the book. You just dive in and start writing in your toothpaste-stained sweatshirt, with a serious case of bed-head. At this point, you love your life. You think yourself incredibly lucky that someone is paying you to be a writer. Woo-hoo!
Downside: This lasts for about the first chapter. Then you realize that, knowing your beginning and knowing your end are just brackets that frame a big problem: you’ve got no plot. A plot is the life you give to your characters and the journey you take them on. But you can’t give your characters a life when you don’t really know them. And like people, characters in books are hard to get to know. Trying to force a plot is like trying to pull out your own tooth with a pair of pliers. Surely it’s best then to just let a plot closely mirror life? It just flows on from some place where it begins… But the story of your own real life has a slow unfolding every day. Sometimes not much happens. Sometimes you go nowhere. But if nothing much happens in your plot, and it’s going nowhere, then, alas, so is your career. Despite the theoretically fabulous process of writing a book, by the time you finally write the words The End, you realize you have never been more relieved by anything in your life – except when you wrote your other two books, and the memory of that is still so traumatic that you’ve never re-read them since they got published. But then an odd thing happens. A tiny part of you knows you will miss laboring over that book because when every time you read it, it makes you laugh and cry in all the right places – where you imagine your readers will laugh and cry too. To care so passionately about the lives and loves and heartbreaks of people who don’t even exist, yet can reduce you to such extremes of your emotions, feels like your own best measure of success. And then you realize that must make you slightly off your head. There surely has to be a less madcap way to earn a living.
Upside: That is certainly true.
Carol Mason is the best-selling author of The Love Market, Send Me A Lover and The Secrets of Married Women – all recently re-released as Amazon E books for $2.99. For the month of March, Carol will be donating 50% of the proceeds of her E book sales to breast cancer. See her website, www.carolmasonbooks.com for more details, or jump right onto Amazon and buy the books.
My new novel, The Love Market, I am told, has just hit the shelves in stores across Canada. I love that expression! I only have to read it to feel that the entire hair-pulling, teeth-grinding ordeal of a year spent writing a novel was all worth it. Of course then I rush to my local bookstore and fail to see the book anywhere. Or it may happen to be in a box, amidst a pile of other unpacked novels in the corner of the store, even though theoretically it’s supposed to be proudly occupying its well-earned space on some up-front and centre shelf where the world can see it and buy it.
Then reality kicks in, and I remember one thing: no dream is ever as perfect as we imagine it. If it was, life would stop the moment we got what we wanted.
I will never forget finding out that I had finally got bought by a top publishing house, that my book would be published in many different countries, I was being paid a slightly more than respectable salary for what I’d accomplished, and what’s more, they were buying a second book off me – one I’d not even written or conceived yet! I must be pretty fantastic, right? Surely after everything I’d been through I could allow myself to think myself fabulous just this once?
It had not been easy. (understatement of the century) I’d given up a well-paid job to write full-time. I’d initially given myself a year to get published and that year had turned into five. I imagined, because I was so gung-ho (and clearly deluded), that I’d make it with my first book. That one book turned into three unpublished attempts that still lurk in the bottom drawer of my desk, because I’m sure one day I will revive them and they will go on to be bestsellers. Actually it was five unpublished attempts. I forgot to count the two novels I wrote ten years previously that I was too lazy to back up on my computer, and my computer got stolen, and the novels went along for the ride. Surely I had earned my stripes?
“Are you sitting down?’ My agent asked me on a phone call from London. I had just woken up. It was 7AM Vancouver time. Then her next question was, ‘Do you have a bottle of champagne in the fridge?’
The thing was, I had become so conditioned to the concept of failure that imagining myself a success no longer ever crossed my mind. I disbelieved her when she told me that Hodder & Stoughton had just made a lovely offer on The Secrets of Married Women. What was she playing at? Is this how my agent got her jollies? I had to consciously sit there and reason with myself: Hang on Carol, she has no reason to make this up. Maybe it’s true.
I didn’t have a bottle of champers in the fridge. But by the end of that day I was eating sushi with Dom Perignon. The high I felt was like none I’d experienced before. I had done something that countless people told me I would never do: Even if they never came out and said it, it was there in their faces. I had gotten published. On a big level. Way to go me!
Mysteriously, I became all fixated on death after that. I didn’t want to die before I saw my first novel hit the shelves. Not that, until that moment, I’d ever imagined myself dying. I was in perfectly good health and a reasonably sane driver and I didn’t think I had any enemies who would be following me with a hatchet down a dark street. But after hearing my so-called “job” of writing had been validated by a big publishing house, and I no longer had to feel I needed to make excuses to people about what I did, I had a heightened sense of my own need to self-preserve. All I wanted was to walk into a big bookstore and see myself right there, next to whichever brand name author had a book out at the same time – then I could die happy. Or on a shelf filed next to whatever greatly successful writer bore a last name beginning with M. In my case, it always seems to be Carole Matthews. Seeing a table-load of my novel in Borders on Oxford Street made me want to rip off all clothes and dance naked on top of them. Not only had I hit shelves, I’d apparently hit tables too! I started lurking around the edges of bookshelves, watching to see if anyone would actually buy my book off that table. I never saw it happen. Then I fantasized about seeing someone reading my book on a bus. That never happened either. But then my moment came. I was skimming a British newspaper and saw a photograph of a WAG (Footballers’ Wives And Girlfriends) sitting on a beach reading a novel – and the book was none other than The Secrets of Married Women. A WAG was reading me! How cool was that?
Of course sometimes “hitting the shelves” literally means there is one copy, spine out, under the letter M. A pretty deflating sight to see. Especially as you tend to know it’s not because there’s only one left, but because there never was more than one in the first place. But still, I will always take my “one” copy to the most prominent position in the store, and place it right there – surreptitiously, like you never really saw me do that. But hey! If Carrie Bradshaw can do it, why can’t I?
So this weekend, Olympics fever over in Vancouver (almost), I will do my routine of driving to as many stores as I can hit and signing copies so that the sales team can stick pretty little stickers on them. As hard as it is to be published and to keep on being published, this thing I get to do when new book hits the shelves makes me remember why it is I started writing in the first place.
Signed by Author? Yep, that’s me.
Post written by author Carol Mason, who’s novel The Love Market is now available on Amazon.ca
Carol Mason always had the desire to write. Even though she suffered through some very non-glamorous jobs in the beginning, she always knew the passion for writing was there, she just wasn’t so sure on what she wanted to write. After her husband, Tony, convinced her to get a degree that was related to writing, Mason got her degree in Radio and Television Arts from Ryerson Polytechnical University in Toronto- and decided she wanted to write a book. After many rejections but never giving up hope, The Secrets of Married Women was bought by Hodder, and has since sold to 12 countries and is translated into 8 languages.
Carol Mason now has two books published, The Secrets of Married Women and Send Me a Lover, with a third soon to be published. The Love Market is due out in stores on Valentine’s Day 2010. Mason currently lives in British Columbia with her husband and their cat and dog, Sadie and Rosie.
Q: Where do you draw your inspiration from?
Sometimes I’ll read an article that will trigger a concept for a book – as is the case with the book I am now working on. Other times it’s just something someone says, or I overhear, and I build on it, and ask myself “what if….”
Q: On your website, you talk a lot about your early failed attempts at writing. What kept you pushing through to achieve your goal of publishing a novel?
I think it was the realization that many ordinary people – people just like myself who have no connections in the publishing world, haven’t worked on glossy magazines etc – can make it as novelists. So I thought if they can, I can! But admittedly, when my bottom drawer started filling up with unpublished manuscripts (3 of them, if you don’t count the 2 I wrote 10 years earlier!), it became a matter of sheer determination – I had come this far, I had made some progress with each book I had written, so I had to push through a little harder to make it happen.
Q: What is your favorite part about writing?
My favorite part is when I have a manuscript drafted from start to finish, and it’s all essentially there but it needs more layers. And then I add them, and then I read the final thing, and think, Gosh it feels like a real book now! And I really love it! Another great moment for me is when something I have written moves me to either laugh or well up with tears. It’s an odd feeling having your own work do that to you, but is a sure sign for me that something I have done is really working!
Q: If you weren’t a writer, what do you think you would be doing for a profession?
I would have liked to be in the movie business. A director would be my ideal job, if I wasn’t a novelist. But then again, it’s another tough choice — one of those dream jobs that don’t seem to happen to ordinary people. But I like to aim high and go for the almost-impossible, so I’d have probably tried to work my way up into that.
Q: You have two books out right now, The Secrets of Married Women and Send me a Lover. Are you currently working on a third novel?
My third novel, The Love Market, hits stores in February, around Valentine’s Day actually, which is totally appropriate. It’s about a divorce that maybe should not have happened, and the return of a first love, to complicate matters. On another level, it’s about the dating/matchmaking world, and how a woman can be successful in helping others find love but be incapable of getting it right in her own life! The Love Market is actually a real place in Vietnam – a market square where young lovers used to go to find each other and old flames would come to reunite. The concept of it intrigued me and I thought it would be a good kick-off point for a novel.
Q: What are your favorite authors/books?
I like Rosie Thomas – especially her earlier books, Anita Shreve, Louise Candlish, Jonathan Tropper, Tony Parsons — anyone who explores characters really well, and can move me to tears or laughter. I’m not massively excited by plot driven books, and would rather have a slower-moving read that took me 100% into the heart and mind of the characters.
Q: What is the worst job you have ever held?
Oh, I’ve had loads! Trying to sell boxes for the Toronto Skydome wasn’t the best. I don’t think I sold any. Waitressing in a restaurant that was such a safety hazard that it should have been condemned — it’s a wonder I got out of there alive. Hotel receptionist working until midnight then having to be back on the desk at 7am – somehow getting home which was half way across London, showering then sleeping in between all that. Working in a small advertising agency for an extremely temperamental boss.
Q: Do you have a favorite TV show that you just can’t miss?
I am not massively into television, but I am quite addicted to Brothers and Sisters.
Q: What is or do you think would be your favorite place to travel?
Last April my husband and I went to Buenos Aires and I fell in love with it. I adore vibrant cities that never sleep, and BA was that! And more. Plus the food was fantastic – especially if you like beef. And the wine was wonderful and so cheap! I think the Greek Islands are spectacular and last year I spent a month on Paros trying to finish my novel. I had the time of my life! I’d love to go to Brazil, and, indeed, see a lot more of South America. But, hey, send me anywhere and I’ll get excited. Traveling is the best!
Q: Your website has great information and advice on how to get published. What do you think is the most important piece of advice you can give aspiring writers?
Don’t just focus on being a good writer. You have to understand how the publishing business works. You have to be a business person in a way — because publishers expect writers to be highly knowledgeable about the industry they are trying to get into. So research it like mad — find out what agents and publishers want to see, be professional, be realistic about your dreams. That doesn’t mean you can’t have them, it just means you can’t just have your head stuck in the clouds and expect to succeed! I am happy to answer any questions I can – so long as it’s not basic stuff you can find on the Internet – but if you have something that you’re having a hard time getting an answer to, email me through my website and I’ll do my best to tell you what I know.