John managed to overcome his self doubt about his writing when he enrolled with The Writers Bureau. He has been published in the UK and overseas and is now a qualified copywriter.
By John Stephen Williams
That was me. An avid reader but I never seriously thought I had it in me to be a writer. Although I hide it quite well I've never actually had much confidence in myself, the product I suppose of a deep rooted shyness. So for years I harboured a dream of becoming a writer but did nothing about it simply because in my heart I believed I had neither the talent or the know it all either to write nor compete in a very competitive market. Writing was not for the likes of me.
Nevertheless, no matter how hard I tried to suppress it the writing bug would not go away. However those two well known gloom merchants Mr. Can't and his sidekick Mr Impossible would always undermine my confidence. I'd come up with all sorts of plausible reasons not to write.
I was far too thin skinned to make it. All those rejection slips would only make me miserable.
An editor will take one look at my work and won't stop laughing for a fortnight.
I envied so many writers deftness with language. My writing however, would have all the quality and finesse of a sledgehammer.
Did I have the self discipline to string thousands of words together into a meaningful and coherent whole? It seemed to me an impossible task.
In any case what possible could I have to offer that would be remotely of interest to anyone? I didn't live a particularly exciting life. Like millions of others my life consisted of family, friends and work. I was not widely travelled. The skeletons in my cupboard were pretty tame. What on earth could I write about? Where would I get my inspiration, my storylines, plots and character profiles and everything else that goes into creating a work of fiction?
Then there was that age old enemy – time. I was on the wrong side of forty for goodness sake, it was far too late to learn anything new. If I'd wanted to write I should have done it years ago. I actually talked myself into believing that writing was just a whim, a manifestation of an impending mid life crisis. As with all fads I concluded it would pass.
Thus on the assumption that I was well and truly past it, that one should only write what one knows and what I new wasn't particularly worth knowing, I continued to put all thoughts of becoming a writer aside. No one could have done a better job of talking themselves out of fulfilling a dream. Writing was the prerogative of the gifted and I did not number myself among them.
Writing would have remained a pipe dream had it not been for three traumatic events that turned my life upside down.
The company I worked for lost a contract and I found myself out of a job, this coincided with my father having a stroke. A former coal miner, afterwards he was unable to walk. The last two years of his life were spent in a nursing home. In the final weeks we were forced to stand helplessly by as his mind and body deteriorated. He was sixty-five when he died.
Then my strong, hardworking, capable mother was struck down by those acutely painful and crippling conditions, osteoarthritis and osteoporosis. Barely able to walk, unable to do those tasks most of us take for granted, I gave up all thoughts of returning to work to look after her.
Frankly, given all that had happened, I needed an outlet, a diversion from the harsh and brutal reality of seeing someone I loved day in, day out in indescribable pain. It would act as a safety valve and hopefuly enable me to hold on to my sanity. A tall order but I found a possible answer to my problem in of all places a television commercial.
The commercial was for the Writers Bureau and showed ordinary people like me who had dreamed of writing and who after completing the Bureau's course had achieved their goal.
Being of a somewhat cynical disposition I am not normally swayed by advertising, what did it for me was the claim that if by the time I completed the course I had not sold my work and recouped at least the value of the course I would get my money back. What did I have to lose? So the following day I enrolled and I have never looked back.
There were a number of key features of the program that helped me, of all people, become a bona fide writer.
Top of the list was the realisation that I was not alone in this endeavour I was about to embark on. I would receive guidance and back up every step of the way. What a relief!
Secondly, I was made aware that I was not alone in having doubts, fears and inhibitions; in fact it was perfectly normal. Knowing that I shared with others the same anxieties was both comforting and extremely cathartic. It empowered me to work through my fears – if other writers could do it, so could I.
Another important lesson I learned was professionalism. The etiquette of submission and presentation; the writing's aesthetic quality must be of the highest calibre. If it doesn't look good it won't be taken seriously, let alone read.
If I wanted to succeed I needed to learn everything I possibly could about the markets available. What the publication looked for, their style and approach. Who read them, their age, sex, interests etc. In other words it was no good second guessing who read what, I had to know.
I bought and borrowed a variety of magazines and set about dissecting them. Although initially I found the whole process daunting, I learned to appreciate the value of the exercise. All the clues were there, it was just a matter of seeing them with new eyes – a writer's eyes.
Before I began the course I thought exclusively in terms of writing fiction, a novel perhaps. My favourite genre was mystery/crime so possibly a 'Who done it?'
Through the course I discovered not only other genres and hybrids but other avenues of expression: magazine articles, short stories, poetry, letters to the editor not to mention the World Wide Web and its insatiable appetite for copy.
I decided that rather than starting with a full blown novel the right thing for me would be to start small and work my way up – baby steps. I focused my attention mainly on writing articles, short stories, together with letters to the editor and oh yes, I nearly forgot, a poem.
To my surprise I enjoyed the variety of exploring different formats. I learned what worked for me and what didn't. Genres that I would never have dreamed of reading I now wanted to write. So much was new to me and I enjoyed researching my material almost as much as actually writing it. Rather than finding the physical act of writing overwhelming, each day I couldn't wait to begin.
That was six years ago and my enthusiasm has not waned one bit. I still get a thrill when I see my name in print. I have had numerous articles published in the United Kingdom, Australia and the United States on subjects ranging from the prejudices encountered by women who ride motorbikes, published in a Chicago magazine, to a feature on a company in Australia developing a low cost, high quality agricultural machinery for the third world, published in an edition of the Australian Agricultural Journal. I have since qualified as a Copywriter and finally I have begun working on my first novel.
But whatever success may come my way, what will always hold pride of place in my heart is the first article I ever sold. It was called 'Jack the Giant Killer' and was published in Country Quest magazine in the UK.
Jack the Giant Killer examined the history behind the pantomime. I planned months in advance and took the Bureau's advice to try to match my writing to a particular season, or anniversary. I was paid £25.00 but if it had been a a million it wouldn't have meant more. I had found my niche in live; finally I could at last call myself a writer.
“I’m currently working on my fourth book, have been paid for my writing by at least 15 different magazines, and now earn half my income from writing – all thanks to The Writers Bureau’s course."
Sarah Plater - Writers Bureau Writer of the Year 2017