I resolved to follow my dream. I wanted to push every boundary. I wanted to swim further than anyone else. I wanted to cross seas and round capes that no one had dreamed of swimming before. And I wanted to swim in waters that were so cold no one thought it was possible to survive in them. And though it promised to make me poor and would take away the security provided by a career in law, that didn’t worry me.
Danny: No one’s really an architect, that’s like a job guys have in the movies.
Looking back, I’ve had a remarkable ride. I’m not sure I can call it a career, because a career implies that I had some kind of career plan, and I never did. The nearest thing I had was a list I made when I was 15 of everything I wanted to do: to write an adult novel, a children’s book, a comic, a movie, record an audiobook, write an episode of Doctor Who… and so on. I didn’t have a career. I just did the next thing on the list.
If you have an idea of what you want to make, what you were put here to do, then just go and do that.
Something that worked for me was imagining that where I wanted to be – an author, primarily of fiction, making good books, making good comics and supporting myself through my words – was a mountain. A distant mountain. My goal.
And I knew that as long as I kept walking towards the mountain I would be all right. And when I truly was not sure what to do, I could stop, and think about whether it was taking me towards or away from the mountain.
I learned to write by writing. I tended to do anything as long as it felt like an adventure, and to stop when it felt like work, which meant that life did not feel like work.
I’ll be a poet, a writer, a dramatist. Somehow or other I’ll be famous, and if not famous, I’ll be notorious. Or perhaps I’ll lead the life of pleasure for a time and then—who knows?—rest and do nothing. What does Plato say is the highest end that man can attain here below? To sit down and contemplate the good. Perhaps that will be the end of me too.
Careers are not often as chosen as people think they are. People talk to me about my choices. I don’t make choices, hardly. Things happen, and you say yes or no – usually ‘yes’, because it’s always better to do something. What’s the choice? Somebody will say, ‘Don’t do that part, you don’t need to do that part.’ And I’ll say, ‘Why not? What am I going to do? Sit around the house?’ I’d much rather go to work, and see actors, and have fun.
It’s career suicide, colleagues tell me, to speak out against the literary establishment; they’ll smear you. But never mind. I’m too old and too invisible to said establishment to care.
I began my work as a film critic in 1967. I had not thought to be a film critic, and indeed had few firm career plans apart from vague notions that I might someday be a political columnist or a professor of English.
Robert Zonka, who was named the paper’s feature editor the same day I was hired at the Chicago Sun-Times, became one of the best friends of a lifetime. One day in March 1967, he called me into a conference room, told me that Eleanor Keen, the paper’s movie critic, was retiring, and that I was the new critic. I walked away in elation and disbelief, yet hardly suspected that this day would set the course for the rest of my life.