It’s not always other people who write books. It’s natural to put authors on a pedestal, especially if, like me, you didn’t grow up surrounded with books at home, but it could be you.
A writer is someone who reads. With the exception of an Instagram poet, I’ve not met a successful author for whom this was not a rule.
Don’t get competitive: if someone is doing similar work to you, it just expands the market. Literature is not the fast food market: other people don’t need to fail for you to succeed.
The first draft is always crap: a writer is someone who endures the agony of returning to it and making it better despite the agony and torment.
No one cares about the quality of your writing as much as you – editors, agents are more interested in just getting the book out. You set your own standards.
Having said that, you need to learn to let go. A writer doesn’t finish a book as much as have it taken away from them. You might, like me, even end up re-writing the bloody thing as you do readings.
Don’t confuse promotion for writing. There’s so much pressure for authors to flog their wares that they sometimes confuse it for actual work. Publishers will never acknowledge it, but great books usually find their own audience. Focus on the text.
Social networking deprives you of the attention you need to produce good work. You essentially need to make your daily life so boring that your manuscript is the most interesting thing in it. It’s difficult because writing is so lonely.
Embrace the loneliness: we write and read to feel less alone, but we need to be alone to get the writing done.
You can make a decent living as an author, but only if you’re not myopic. Even the most successful writers combine books with journalism or screenwriting or teaching – a compromise that has the benefit of forcing you into society and keeping you sane.
Never write for free.
Writing is the hardest job in the world: there’s always someone doing it better than you, most books fail, and unlike many corporate jobs, you don’t necessarily get better paid and get better at it, the longer you do it.
Writing is also the easiest job in the world, because if you’re a writer, you just can’t help but do it.
Sathnam Sanghera is an award-winning columnist and feature writer with the Times and has been shortlisted for the Costa Book Awards twice, for his memoir The Boy With The Topknot and his novel Marriage Material.
This article is part of a series of experienced writers and authors sharing what they wish they had known when they first started writing.