Any aspiring journalist wondering leaving school this year could look at Christian Saunders and think ‘yeah, that’s where I want to be in ten years time’, and there wouldn’t be any shame in that.
Writing regularly for Nuts Magazine, as well as a few other notable publications, working for himself, and successfully living in London (as we know, it costs more to live there than anywhere else in the country) Chris is inscribing his career as fast as his fingers can type.
He’s old skool, doing it the hard way, pitching ideas to magazines, hooking up so-called ‘freelance staff writer’ positions, and writing novels in his spare time. Novels which get published. Look him up on Amazon. He’s just written a blood-and-guts history of Cardiff City Football Club with all the colour and anecdotal depth you’d expect from a lifelong supporter. If you looked up how to be a writer in Wikipedia, Chris’ photo would be next to the definition.
But here’s the News: he isn’t 28. How to be a writer is a lot less straightforward than you’d think. It’s taken him about ten years longer than any kid might imagine to get to the hard-working-hack position he’s currently in. In fact, here’s the next headline: It Takes Longer Than You Think To Make Your Career Work, since you have to factor in that little thing called Life. Oh, and bills.
How to be a writer: which way do you go?
So how to be a writer? What’s the route you take? And why did it take Chris so long? (And, by the way, that’s not unusual. It takes a long time to get where you’re going in writing until Luck shines her face on you).
Chris’ career has varied from nine years in a factory in south Wales to five years in China, teaching English, but having ‘gone pro’ in 2012, it’s obvious that on the way to being a writer, you can’t let go of your dreams at any time.
Bloody-mindedness, resilience, and persistence are essential pieces of your productivity engine; if you don’t write, then there’s no product. A writer isn’t a writer without writing.
Equally, it’s no good having a product but not trying to sell it. Chris wrote short stories, pure escapism, he says. And then he tried to sell them. The rejection slips only made him more determined to succeed. His view is that rejection slips have been good for his career. What makes writing for money hard is the battering the ego gets, but if you give up, you’re not a writer. Let’s reiterate that:
how to be a writer is by never giving up.
The route to being a writer could start with a ‘proper job’ of some sort to pay the bills, and writing in your spare time. At some point the balance may shift, and the writing become the major money generator in place of the day job. Christian achieved the shift, and loves his work. He did it for little or no money for years, so now the money he makes from writing is a bonus.
Just like with driving, you get better with everyday practice. Whether you get a job in the industry, or you get a job working a machine on a production line, you have to keep writing.
So now we have determination, resilience, and practice. (Bloody-mindedness should go without saying). What else is there?
Where do the ideas come from?
Ideas are impossible to quantify, or even put a value on. Chris is clearly an ideas man. He says that some he believes in and sees through; others fall by the wayside. Not everyone works this way. Writers who take longer to grow their ideas might follow each one through every time.
If you write for a magazine, you have to come up with the ideas, and what you like isn’t always going to be the same as what your editor likes. If you write for a content farm on the internet, the ideas are presented by the clients and you can pick through the ones that stimulate you. Enjoying a challenge is part of these processes and will show you off the best.
When writing a novel, Christian says he doesn’t worry about what his editor likes. Novels are more about personal choice. He’s right, of course, but even if you haven’t yet got an editor who believes in your book, you have to believe in it. It’s essential to be proud of your story, to love it and live it and if you find yourself whittling away at the story issues while you’re working your 9 to 5, then you should know that you’re doing the right thing. Mulling it over, turning it about in your head.
Not everyone has a novel in them, but there are many writers pouring out words and manifesting ideas. Some of them make it, some of them get no further than the Recycle Bin.
The bare essentials
There are two totally essential things in your quest for how to be a writer: the first is that you have to keep writing. Remember? No product, no writer. The second is that you have to learn from the mistakes you make; the ‘funky’ grammar that no-one enjoyed reading; the subject matter that you hadn’t realised showed you off in a bad light. Writing is one of those things which is easy and hard all at the same time, and if you don’t keep scrabbling at the learning curve, you can’t compete with all the writers out there who do.