Can day jobs turn into bestsellers?April 05, 2017

Joanna Cannon was working at Royal Derby Hospital when she decided to pen her debut novel in secret.

"I would write a few hundred words whenever I could, and if I got a break at lunchtime I would go out to my car for half an hour to write," she said. "I would sit in the car park at the side of the ring road and write to the sound of the cars going by."

"The Trouble With Goats And Sheep" became a bestseller. Cannon gave up her job after signing a £300,000 publishing contract. The 48-year-old would be working on her second novel on a full-time basis, but she had plans to return to psychiatry on a voluntary, part-time basis. The native of Ashbourne thought it was a surreal experience, as the majority of writers were hoping to be full-time authors like Cannon. However, most won't be as lucky as Cannon. A day job would be an economic necessity, and the annual income of most British authors would be below the minimum wage.

Cannon's case, as well as the other novelists, could provide valuable insights on aspiring authors. As Cannon put it, you have to face the fear of being average or failing. Most English majors (or university students harboring dreams of becoming a bestselling novelist) would know it. Let's analyse other aspects behind Cannon's remarkable success:

Luck could play a part. The publication of "The Trouble With Goats And Sheep" happened in weeks. Cannon entered the York Festival of Writing and entered the Friday Night Live competition, where she read aloud 500 words of her book. She won the contest, she also received offers of representation from literary agents. The other novelists waited for years before their big break; Anthony Trollope wrote twenty novels before resigning from his postal service job. Franz Kafka might have been in the worst position, as his loathing on his being a clerk could be seen in his works. Inspiration could happen anywhere, as long as the writer wants it.

There are moments when a writer must tough it out. William Golding had an unsatisfactory job at a boy's school, but his grumpy nature didn't show in his masterpiece, "Lord of the Flies". It could still be a blessing in disguise, as teaching provided Golding a steady income and a chance to forget his day job. Circumstances could have made the author not looking for another job. Some writers prefer isolation while the others flourish in the world. There are moments when the conditions won't inspire them to write a page, which won't be an issue at all. There's no deadline, but they must finish what they already started.

The best of both worlds may turn out to be the best option. Cannon might find ideas for her next book when she returns to psychiatry, as experience would teach her. (She had various jobs until she decided to complete her degree in medicine.) She also loved narrative, and her keen understanding of human nature played a part. Most people would like to do one thing at a time, even excel in that chosen field. Authorship can be a fickle profession, as uncertainty would force many budding authors to assess their standing constantly. It might be better to have it both ways.

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