I think I formed the secret desire to be a writer when I was about 10. By desire I mean that I realised that I had found something that I really liked doing, that apparently I was good at and that I could really identify with doing for the rest of my life. When I say secret, it’s not like I told anyone, nor made conscious education decisions around it or really pursued it in any logical rational way from that point on.
I wrote from that point onwards, through junior school into high school. But when it came to time to graduate and decision around university and things like that, I didn’t day to anyone, “I want to be a writer, what do you study to do that?” I didn’t even decide to go and study writing’s ugly step-sister, journalism. No, I deferred, did military service instead. And then signed on to study law.
Luckily, my unconscious mind was having none of that and I dropped law after a year to major in English Literature and Philosophy. Good for writing you’d think. Except no they weren’t. Instead I stagnated into a quagmire of indecision and insecurity. Having read the masters and learned deconstruction through the writings of the finest minds I was stuck. Intimidated, more than a bit lost and very, very uncertain.
So I did what any self-respecting middle class white man from South Africa did at the time: I went to London. London was where I got launched into the music business during the summer of ’94. That business was something I would not leave until April 2013.
Rock n roll did a good job of distracting the hell out of me for a solid two decades. None the less, between 2001 and 2012 I managed to get 6 books published. The plan… the plan was always to get started and to get working on that novel. The great South African novel. Which then became the great Johannesburg novel. Which became a 200 000 word manuscript that… is in the bottom drawer.
I no longer think I am a novelist. I am a writer that much is clear. Maybe just not a novelist. Between the philosophy studies and the rock n roll came the realisation that my experience as a white middle class South African is just not of any real literary import. I’ve discovered that my ideas for novels are just… tame mostly. Or done. I just don’t seem to have that fiercely burning story inside me that aches to get out. I have loads of ideas about our lives, our society and how they are lived. But no matter how I try, I can’t seem to make those into decent stories, with arcs and plots and characterisations.
When I stepped on the publishing wheel in 2001 with Urban 1, I really thought I had finally stepped on to the Shining Path of my life’s purpose. It was just a matter of staying the course, keeping going, writing and growing and I would reach that vision of being a writer: someone who makes a living from writing, publishing and selling books.
So far it hasn’t worked out that way for me. My momentum spluttered and died and I have changed course. It is of course possible that this desire of mine was no more than a childish whim or a momentary impulse that I fixated on. Or it could just be that I chose to project a specific vision of HOW that would work over the fact that, yeah, I can write.
Either way, I realised last week that maybe I need to admit all that stuff and wave it good bye. I was and am disappointed it didn’t work out. I realise this disappointment has been with me since 2010 when I had to self-publish my music industry book because the publisher was just not honouring our agreement. It hurts. I invested a lot of time and effort into that dream. Since 2008 it was pretty much all I thought about, was the fulcrum around which I organised all my business activities and the guiding light behind many of my decisions, both personal and business. I sacrificed possible relationships, turned down work, kept my head down and went flat out for it.
What I did is still damn impressive. I don’t mind if that sounds arrogant. From 2008 until 2012 I published 3 books and finished a monster novel manuscript. I also collaborated on a documentary film, resurrected my live performance career, wrote a bunch of songs and released a collab album filled with my poetry. It’s a good list. I am happy with and proud of it.
This is not to say I am penning my swan song from writing or books. But maybe to do two slightly more simple things:
Admit my disappointment and loss
Admit that I no longer really have a plan.
I know that to many it never appeared that I had a plan. I did. And it went well. But not well enough. I was missing a few crucial pieces that would have taken the running start I got to the next level. And that’s my bad. That’s what I have to deal with.
For now, I am busy with absorbing what WAS achieved and resting up. What happens next will come to me soon enough.