Take a ticket to oblivion

Imagine a room full of people.

Something like a university lecture hall; one of the really big ones. Tier upon tier of seats with those little fold-up wing desks that drive teachers nuts because kids can’t help but muck around with them rather than listening to the sage on the stage below.

Okay. So we’ve got our room. It’s choc-a-bloc with people. Hundreds of them. And they all have at least one thing in common. They have assembled on this particular day because they all want to become authors.

More than anything else in the world, they want to write books. They want to see their work on bookshelves in bookshops, available for download from online retailers and, most importantly, they want other people to read them.

Now, in front of this room full of eager scribes stands a lecturer — man or woman, it doesn’t matter. This lecturer is one of those no nonsense types who could easily have taken up a career in insurance assessment, or death row security.

He or she fixes the attendees with a terminal stare. ‘Hands in the air everyone who has started writing a manuscript.’

A forest of arms reaches for the ceiling.

‘Keep ‘em up if you’ve finished writing the first draft.’

Timber! Half the hands fall.

The lecturer sucks in a lungful of air and yells, ‘Unless your hand is still in the air, leave. NOW.’

Much swinging of wing desks, much scraping of feet, much muttering of curses as the rejected slope to the exits.


The lecturer waits until the last of the castoffs is gone and the doors have swung closed. She glares out at those remaining. ‘Who here has taken their manuscript through at least three re-writes?’

About half the hands go up. The lecturer points to the doors. ‘The rest of you — out!’

Scraping, muttering, fuming, they leave.

The lecturer goes on.

‘Who has a problem with rejection? Criticism? Crippling self-doubt? Out! Out! Out! Are you obsessive? Hermitic? Self-destructive — NO? Then go away.’

As the dust settles and an eerie silence fills the hall, there are only two people still seated at their desks. They both have the lean and hungry look of Olympic athletes, vying in a race with just one medal on offer. The lecturer fixes them with a steely eye.

‘Are you two willing to earn about a fifth of the average national wage, have no job security and absolutely no guarantee of critical or commercial success?’

The two people nod like starving dogs, manic looks in their eyes.

One of them speaks. ‘Should we give up everything and become writers?’

The lecturer considers them carefully, then shrugs. ‘You’re clearly no other use to society, so why not?’

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