So you want to be a writer?

Really? Are you sure?

Because although I hate to rain on anybody's parade, most of the people I meet who say they want to be writers, don't actually want to be writers at all. What they want is for the blue fairy of happiness (read Pinocchio) to lean down and turn them into real writers without any effort on their part.

Actual 'paying the bills writing' is tough. I make a living from a combination of writing erotica (and though I say it myself, it's bloody good erotica), reading slush piles, teaching, and writing specialist articles for the specialist journals of this world. I do not make any kind of a living from the literary fiction that I also write, that just occasionally gets published and is what makes me a 'writer' in the eyes of the wanabees.

I'm serious about Pinocchio by the way.

The point is, being a live, income-earning writer entails the same eight to ten hours a day grind as any other job. Okay, I happen to love writing articles about peach tree blight. Yes, it's true I may be the only person in the world who feels a warm glow when considering a two thousand word abstract on community fishery policy and transformational loan mechanisms. But those are the kinds of subjects that I write about, and those articles pay my mortgage. I'm lucky enough to enjoy those bits of the job, most of the time. But when I don't, I still have to do my eight to ten hours of reading, editing, writing and rejecting before I can find the time to sit down and work on my own little literary pretensions.

Getting back to Pinocchio, the little wooden puppet - who may or may not wear women's underwear, according to Shrek 2 - and who wanted to be a real boy. The blue fairy didn't lean down from a rainbow and turn him into a child - instead he had to learn to master his worst impulses, work hard and make sacrifices. Along the way he was lynched, drowned and swallowed by a shark. Once he had found a cause he believed in (his father's health) and a daily drudgery to which he committed himself willingly, he discovered he was human.

Becoming a writer is a lot like that.

But if you really want to be a writer, be here tomorrow, when I reveal two sure-fire ways to make sure your short story doesn't get into print!

(Yes, I know it's not Pinocchio, rather a celluloid doll that lived on the landing outside the Beijing flat, but it's the nearest thing to a puppet I could find)