I’m not one of these writers who wanted to be a writer ever since they were in nappies. I didn’t fall in love with books and discover a voracious reading habit in my teens.
If I’m being honest, I hated all things academic by about mid-way through high school, and that even extended to reading for pleasure, which I saw as an extension of being told what to do.
I was a very average student who didn’t read the books I was meant to for English class, didn’t do a lot of the other work and was one step away from delinquency. But I managed to scrape through school and get out into the big wide world, and much of the credit for that needs to be put down to good parenting (thanks Mum and Dad).
After discovering that there were very few jobs for high school grads and spending a few years exploring, I bit the bullet and went to university.
Fast forward past university, where I actually learned how to enjoy study, and I kind of enjoyed books. I would read a few a year. But I also liked video games, drinking, rapping in a hip hop band (true story for another time) and binge-watching movies and TV series before Netflix even existed.
To me, writing books was so far off my radar that it might as well have exited in a parallel universe, guarded under lock and key by a human hating alien race.
After university I ended up in Japan teaching English. What was scheduled to be a six month stay ended up being a completely life altering experience.
I could write for a long time about Japan and my experience there but I’ll save those stories for another time. The interesting thing that cemented my current mindset, was that I learned Japanese. Not all at once, I’m still learning actually, but it completely changed the way I think about myself and what’s achievable.
Back in my delinquent high school days, I had a language teacher who absolutely hated me. He told me, that I was just hopeless at languages and used to kick me out of Chinese class for messing around with my mates all the time. He most certainly was justified in doing so. Anyway, he told me that I would never learn a language, and going to his class was pointless. I dropped Chinese after one year and accepted what he said as true. I had no interest in languages anyway, they didn’t seem to have any real-world application to me at the time.
But when I was studying Japanese and going out and using it, making friends and impressing foreigners, a completely new kind of learning opened up to me. I began to really enjoy the process and would spend entire days sitting in the library studying on my own—for fun. And because of that, my language started to skyrocket.
New ex-pats to the country would pick up a few phrases of Japanese and then say something like, ‘Yeah, but, I’m not a language person like you are.’ I would try to explain that you don’t need to be a language person, that anyone can learn anything as long as they are interested in it. I truly believe that.
When I got back from Japan some years later, married with a master’s degree under my belt, I was looking to set up a new life. I found a job as an environmental officer in a prison. The experience was far outside of my comfort zone but I stuck with it. Four years later, after getting involved in a program that attempted (and failed) to transform a toxic work culture within the prison, I left. I was exhausted, emotionally, and mentally. I started another job but just couldn’t dedicate myself to it. I felt trapped in the nine to five and could see my life slipping away from me. I needed some time to deal with what had gone on at the prison and regroup.
I quit the job I had with a head full of self-help books and business advice. I knew that I wanted to tell the story of what had happened at the prison and I wanted to do something different. By this stage, I was reading a lot more, had two very young kids, and was worried I might be in the middle of early-onset mid-life crisis.
Before quitting I’d started to create a podcast about the prison and also started a Japanese / English language learning software to be my main income (again ,a story for another time).
I still wasn’t thinking about writing.
The podcast idea, however, came to a screeching halt. I had some of the gear and was interviewing a few people about their prison experience and toxic work culture, but it wasn’t coming together how I’d envisaged. The nail in the coffin, was when the partner of one of the people I was interviewing, let me know about all of the potential litigation I was opening everyone up to by talking so openly about such a corrupt workplace.
‘No problem, I’ll just write a book.’ I thought, with no real idea of what that meant. And then began my writing journey.
The project started with a huge sense of false confidence. I’d spent years crafting expertly barbed terse emails, designed to inflict maximum damage while remaining ambiguously professional. How hard could a book be?
It turns out, very hard. There were multiple times that it nearly didn’t happen. It took years. I studied, learned about independent publishing. I studied other writers, story structure, and prose style. I wrote about half a book and then threw the entire thing away and started again.
That first book is one of the hardest things I’ve ever done and when it was ready to launch, I was ready for it to transform my life.
All of the books and podcasts and advice told me not to expect your first book to be a huge success. Especially, if you don’t know anything about marketing and promotion. It’s possible they said, but extremely unlikely. I focussed on the “it’s possible” part of their advice.
I pictured myself on talk shows, on the news, in the newspaper, providing commentary on why workplaces turn toxic. My book was about an exciting topic, dripping with the pain and real-life experience that came from years of toil. This would put everything right. Everything I’d been through would be transformed in my mind because without it I never would have written the book that skyrocketed me to superstardom.
The book sold a few copies. I did lots of talks at libraries. I tried online promotions, told everyone I knew about it, and set up my own website selling directly. I even managed to get my picture in the local paper. Financially, the book nearly broke even. But some people did read it. They joined my mailing list, told me how the book had impacted them, gave me feedback. The good and the bad. It was amazing and life-changing, even if I couldn’t really appreciate it at the time. It was not paying the bills. And the bills were starting to mount.
At the same time, the Japanese / English online business was in its death throes and it was time to go back to work. I had a family to support after all.
I managed to get a job at the same place I had quit from about a year earlier. I am still there. I am a Waste Education Officer in a rural city Council. But the writing has turned into something else. I discovered throughout all this that the same feeling I get when I study Japanese, the intense interest and focus without trying, also happens when I’m working on and learning about writing.
It has turned into a dream. I now aim to read about forty books a year and enjoy nearly every one. I work on my writing and my business every week and it has become my something to aim for. I see it becoming a full-time profession and I throw myself into as if it already is.
I’m fully aware that my writing needs work. My business skills need work, my marketing needs work and my self-confidence probably needs a boost most days too. But that’s not going to stop me. I’ve already seen the growth in writing between my first and fourth books. So much so that I’ve been back and rewritten one of my books already. The same could be said for all the other skills that go with being an independent writer. Even if sometimes I need reminding of it.
I know I say it a bit in emails but if you’re here and reading or listening and taking the time to provide feedback then I can’t thank you enough. You are helping me on a journey that I’m still very hopeful is leading to a brand new profession. One that I believe has something valuable to provide to the world.
This is obviously a very short and oversimplified version of a very long journey. Some of the parts and influences I have left out to avoid going on tangents and boring you.
I am still a way off being a full time writer but I aim to get better and closer to that goal everyday. Maybe I never get there. But I’m going to give it my best shot.
Part of the dream and current direction is to do it all independently, an indie author, which adds another level to the learning curve complexity. To do that means finding readers.
Finding readers who enjoy, appreciate, get something from the writing is the pinnacle of the mountain. I see the authors I love and the different nuggets of wisdom and imagination I get from them. I want to be that for other people.
I hope that in the months and years I can provide that to you. Something to make you laugh or cry or think or to just get you through a boring bus trip.
I’d love to learn about your hopes and dreams and journey’s too. If you are here, you are now part of this journey too and I look forward to sharing it with you. I hope you stick around for a while.
Make sure to leave a comment at the end of this article or hit me back on email or Facebook or anywhere else you can find me. And welcome the C.Hart report.