I've always had two ambitions.
My first and most important one was to be a successful writer. I wanted to be a writer ever since I can remember. I used to write novelizations of comic books. I created a little magazine when I was in primary school and got the headmaster to run them off for me. This was the days before photocopying so it looked like something Thomas Paine might have got thrown in gaol for producing in 1810. Anyway, that's what I wanted to be. A writer.
My second ambition was to be a failed writer. For some reason there was a readily identifiable image of the failed writer. The garret suicide, the unappreciated genius, there are examples, though if truth be told they are in reality vanishingly rare. Thomas Chatterton gave the Romantics the image of the struggling misunderstood artist (and fraudster it has to be added). Shelley and Keats loved the image because they found it extremely difficult to get readers while they were alive. Shelley went on and on about the unacknowledged legislators and both poets used the image of the bird whose song is heard but is not seen: Shelley, the Skylark - flies too high to be spied by the naked eye and Keats uses the Nightingale, singing in the gloaming of the dusk.
More recently we've had John Kennedy Toole and John Williams, but their failure is about timing. No one could be a failed footballer, or a failed scientist in quite the same way. The manuscript that is discovered, the rarity exposed, years ahead of his or her time and that achingly pleasant feeling of being unable to compensate for what went wrong. These exceptions are rescued from their own bad luck by subsequent good luck, and there are the marginalized women and minority voices who are rescued from the oblivion of an academic history skewed in favor of the white and male.
The failed writer is in some ways doubly heroic. You do all the work a normal writer does but without the remuneration or fame. You salve your ego with the half remembered facts that the first Harry Potter got rejected dozens of times, and that F. Scott Fitzgerald wallpapered his room with rejection slips, blithely ignoring two salient facts - you haven't written Harry Potter, nor are you F. Scott Fitzgerald. But it doesn't matter. In the biography someone is bound to write long after you die, you can almost quote word for word the passage about the hungry years, the long wintry stretch of indifference, the vision that kept you going, even when that vision gets blurry and everyone begins to wonder if it isn't time you admitted something Mikhail Bulgakov knew: 'There are enough bad novels in the world'.
Ultimately, it doesn't really matter. I could no sooner give up writing than giving up talking to people, or giving up thinking about dinner when I've just eaten breakfast. It's as much a part of me as my pelvis. It is something I understood from the very beginning when I first realized I wanted to be a writer.
That's why I had a back up plan if all else failed.
Be a failed writer.
I'm happy to say that I'm succeeding at this.
John Bleasdale is a writer. His work has appeared in The Guardian, The Independent, Il Manifesto, as well as CineVue.Com and theStudioExec.com. He has also written a number of plays, screenplays and novels.