Think It's Tough Winning an Olympic Medal? Try Being a Writer

15/08/2012 16:49 BST | Updated 15/10/2012 10:12 BST

Whether it's less than ten seconds of sprinting, almost two hours of triathlon or two days of horse-riding, winning an Olympics medal takes dedication and discipline.

Training in all weathers, relentless driving by trainers who know exactly what it takes to succeed, watching their mates all going out and getting drunk and beginning mating rituals, it is a tough journey for any Olympian.

Then there's the tricky part of actually winning an Olympic medal. In London 2012 there were 10,960 athletes with only 906 medals to win and the tournament only comes around every four years. If an athlete is lucky they probably have only three chances in their lifetimes to win one.

Then there are the injuries, selection difficulties and the terrible despair when they fail, just look at the pain of those silver-medallist rowers Mark Hunter and Zac Purchase when they were beaten by a late surge from Denmark.

But even so, even so, even so, their lives are a walk in the park compared to the utter agony and life-long marathon of being a writer.

They is no global televised jamboree such as the Olympics to inspire young people to be writers, there is no global jamboree to compare skills for these people when they become writers and there are no commercial opportunities when the very few are published and receive relative fame.

While the idea of great British writers endorsing products on the TV and in print and across 48-sheet billboard advertising is an interesting one, the reality is that over the past 20 years athletes' potential income has risen while writers' potential income has plummeted.

The amateur and Corinthian days of the Olympics have gone. Just about every athlete who took part in London 2012 had the financial backing of their countries even if they failed to win a medal... support they will receive again at the next Olympics if they are good enough to be selected.

Writers receive nothing when they decide to make that awful, fateful decision to become a writer. No financial support apart from the odd bursary, years of living in bad accommodation and, believe me, that metaphorical garret doesn't exist out of choice, it is the cheapest option.

They embark on a lifetime of rejection, lack of self-worth, relentless competition, bitchiness from any other writer who walked the planet... and are possessed by spitting green-eyed envy when another writer hits a relative jackpot.

It is a decision that involves being hung in a Judas Chair for decades, tortured by the process of writing, staring at faces in the street, trying to put those faces into a character, creating stories while trying to life a normal life, reading and reading to feel that if they've read enough, then they're good enough. It is a living madness.

Then there's the lifestyle. At least Olympic athletes have fantastic bodies and health, many of them are the most beautiful people on earth. Years of constant training, no alcohol and a great diet creates rock-hard bodies, clear complexions and oozes of sex appeal that must be a consolation medal if they miss out on the Top Three.

Contrast that with writers. Years stuck in front of screens, sitting in Neanderthal positions, eating rubbish food and having terrible sleep patterns because inspiration can come at any time... and it's usually late at night when everybody's sleeping.

A writer with a healthy, ruddy complexion is like seeing an athlete with a beer-gut and don't even mention the lifestyle of writers. It always comes back to alcohol because alcohol sometimes creates inspiration and writers are nothing without that. That's all without mentioning writer's block and the agonies that engenders and the extra alcohol to handle it.

Then there are the things that writers have to do to make money. Athletes have their federation's backing and innumerable events where they can win money; they're fine. In the old days writers would be able to turn to journalism to make ends meet, writing about subjects that they always thought were beneath them but still made them a living.

Now it's even worse. There are probably less than 100 journalists in the UK who make decent money, the creep and creep of free writing through blogs and other channels means that writers now have to become copy-writers and write web copy to stay afloat. Writers no long have bylines... unless they use WordPress to showcase their own work.

It's a nightmare being a writer in 2012, in the same way it's a dream being an athlete in 2012. The corporeal is running the cerebral into the ground in the manner of Mo Farah doing the same to his opponents in the 5,000 metres.

I could cry and if there was an Olympic plinth anywhere nearby I would climb up and weep my eyes out. But if there was one, an athlete would have probably got there before me. Same as it ever was.