From as early as I can remember, I have always wanted to be an author. When our primary school teacher would ask us “what do you want to be when you’re older”, the other children would say “Astronaut”, “Train Driver” or “Doctor”. I was always the weird nerdy kid in the corner who would say “Author”.
I had a fascination and love for stories. My mum would read to me before I could speak. I was reading books by myself before I went to school. When my parents divorced in my first year of school, my coping strategy was to make up stories and pretend I was in them.
Aspiring to be an author is not considered a realistic career path by the education system.
I was lucky enough to grow up with two fantastic stories: Harry Potter and the Lord of the Rings. The first Harry Potter book was released when I was five and the first Lord of the Rings movie when I was nine. I saw how iconic and ubiquitous a good story could become and I wanted to bring my own into the world.
The problem with aspiring to be an author is that it is not considered a realistic career path by the education system. At age five my desire to be an author was humoured. By the time I was approaching ten, I started to hear the limiting questions: “But how are you going to make money?” “Yes, but what are you going to do for your real job?”. Others were starting to place limits on my aspirations. I was even told by one of my high school teachers that she didn’t think my creative writing was of a high enough standard to submit for assessment.
I accepted these limits and started to reconsider my aspirations. At first I was attracted to journalism, which seemed to be the closest alternative to being an author. Eventually, however, I went to university to study psychology.
As I grew up, I never abandoned the dream of being an author, but I definitely put it on the back burner. I prioritised my “normal” career first, spending more time studying for my school exams than honing my writing craft. I focused on getting my job as a psychologist first, then working out what I was going to do with this writing malarky.
I realised that I had already put off being an author
In my first year of university, I was playing The Sims, the video game where you direct the everyday actions of a virtual character. You make sure they eat, socialise and advance in their careers. I was playing for hours a day. On one of these days, I had a sudden realisation. I was spending more time working on the dreams of my virtual Sim character than my actual real-life dreams.
I realised that I had already put off being an author until I had got my degree. What I recognised in that moment was that if I had put off my dream once, I could keep doing it for the rest of my life. I could delay it until I was settled in a career; delay it until I was married; delay it until the kids had left home. I asked myself the key question “If not now, when?”.
If I wanted to be an author, I could be one right now. I had a wonderful opportunity whilst I was at university. At university you have huge windows of free time that I was wasting on playing video games and getting drunk. I could be using that time to actually write a book.
So I began crafting an idea that had been floating around my head for years. As a teenager I’d been fascinated with watching mafia films like The Godfather and playing crime games like Grand Theft Auto. I was studying psychology with an aim to be a criminal psychologist. These ideas started coming together in my head, and out onto text for my first novel, a crime thriller about a Dutch crime family called the Sneijders.
Amazon’s self-publishing platform was now building steam
The year I started writing, 2011, was actually an auspicious time to decide you wanted to be an author. This was because Amazon’s self-publishing platform was now building steam. In the past, to be an author, you had to find a publisher who would take you on. Harry Potter was rejected by twelve different publishers before someone finally took it on. What chance did the rest of us aspiring authors have?
However, Amazon had just removed that middle man that had denied so many authors over the years. Now all you had to do was write the book (still a challenge) and you could get it to readers through first e-book and then paperback. If I could finish a book, then Amazon would help me publish it to real readers.
In 2013, this is exactly what I did. On the 27th of May, at the age of 20, I published my first book Innocence Lost. In August 2014, I published my second book, Vengeance Sought. In 2017, my third book, The Last 60 Minutes, hit #1 on Amazon in one of its categories. At the time of writing, my fourth book is available for preorder. I aim to write and publish another two books before I hit age 30.
Sometimes people say to me that I’m lucky to have found my passion so young. I tell them I should have found it sooner. I knew from the age of five what I wanted to do, and I put it off for fifteen years because I allowed people to put limits on me and I allowed myself to impose those limits.
I think everyone knows from a young age what we really want to do. But we allow society, our teachers and our peers to steer us away, to tell us to be more realistic, to tell us we’re not good enough. You are good enough, but you won’t find that out until you start following your dream and developing yourself. If not now, when?
David McCrae is a #1 bestselling author, inspirational speaker and host of the Author Your Life Podcast. He has spoken for BBC Radio, Yes Group Worldwide, Success4 and the University of Glasgow. David teaches people how to rewrite the narrative of their life and become the hero of their story.
Books by author David McCrae of Innocence Lost, Vengeance Sought, The Last 60 Minutes, Author Your Life (click on book to read more or buy)