Want to be a writer?
Forget spelling, and learn selling.
About a thousand years ago, around the time I failed all my English Language exams at school, I gave up my dreams of being a writer.
I was sixteen years old, a little bit teary eyed, walking home from school (this was in the days when kids could walk) and I thought to myself “oh well, I guess that’s that, I’m too thick.”
I didn’t tell my mum and dad when I got home, partly because they didn’t know I wanted to be a writer, but mostly because they had never realized how dumb their youngest child actually was.
The rest of my exam results were rubbish as well if I’m honest, and things weren’t looking good for me in the long term.
“You could go back to school and take them again?” my mum tried her best, and if I’m honest I did go back to school to try again.
I lasted three days, then I quit, and got a job working fixing roofs on houses.
It was cold, oh god was it cold, I lasted the winter but I can still feel that cold.
I became a salesman in a jewelry store because it was warm.
I sold jewelry to old ladies who probably weren’t going to get much wear out of what they were buying, but I was good at it. So good that little old ladies, who would normally have ran away from the me (I was a Punk Rocker) would get the train thirty miles because their friends had recommended me.
I loved those old ladies, and they loved me, we flirted, flounced and giggled for twelve months and I’d probably still be there if the boss had given me the raise I thought I was due.
I went and sold a million things, the years passed by and cars, watches, sand, bricks, timber, trucks, clothes, truck parts, car parts, roof tiles, floor tiles, even underwear and perfume, I sold the lot.
The punk rocker from Liverpool travelled the world selling his wares and himself. And then one day I thought I’d had enough, and I sat down and sold myself in an interview and became a cop.
I don’t know how it happened either, but there you go, I was a cop.
Weirdly, I found being a cop was pretty much the same as being a salesman, you just talked to people all day and got them to trust you.
If you were honest and believed in what you were saying people came along for the ride (although in fairness I never had to roll around on the floor with anyone who wanted to buy a Cartier watch) if people bought you, they believed you, they’d do what you asked them.
Life was good.
Then it wasn’t.
I was living in a car with a dog and a broken life.
The only good thing was that I had the chance to start again.
So I did, and this time I didn’t quit.
This time I followed my dream and I fought for it.
I became a writer.
I thought my last big sale would be me and my book to Harper Collins, but I couldn’t have been more wrong. I’m working harder at sales now than I ever did when I flogged pants (and trust me, selling expensive pants is tougher than you’d think, there are only so many times you can use the word “gusset” in a five minute conversation before it starts getting weird.)
People don’t believe me when I say writing the book was the easy bit but it is true. When you’re writing a book all you have to do is sit and please yourself, midnight hours and a lonely life with nothing but characters and coffee to keep you company?
That is a doddle.
The hard part is when you are pleasing the public.
I’m learning as I go along, but all those years of pants and truck parts, all those years of Cartier and cars, all of it has given me a better chance than where to use a past participle (I put that in there like I even know what a past participle actually is.)
Writing is about selling.
We might not like to admit it when it’s dark outside and you’re on your tenth cup of coffee as you wrestle with a verb.
But it is.
When people ask me for advice on how to become a writer I tell them pure and simple.
Learn to sell underpants, it’ll stand you in better stead than whether or not the comma in this sentence should have been a semicolon.