A couple of weeks ago I started a new series on the blog called ‘So you want to be a writer?’ It seems I have plenty of things to say on this topic, as I have roughly fifty scraps of paper lying around the house with ideas for posts scribbled on them, but so far they haven’t made it to the blog. (Writer reality number 15: there are more ideas than there are hours to realise them.)
But today I thought I’d liberate one of them from its scrappy home and it’s this:
Writers put it out there.
Their work, that is!
Caveat first: it is, of course, possible to be a writer and write just for yourself. If you keep a diary or journal that is housed in a book and written by hand (as opposed to published on the interwebs for all, or even a select all, to see) that’s what you’re doing. Or if you write to explore your own ideas or feelings and don’t need or want anyone else to see those explorations, fine. Go to it and more power to your pen.
But most of us, when we write, write to communicate. I tell stories as well as write them and something that oral storytelling teaches you is that the story never exists solely in the teller. You learn and shape the story and bring it to the group, but it is not finished at that point. The act of creation continues as you tell. The final version is created between you and the audience. When you tell to a live audience, you can almost see and feel the story hovering in the air between you, changing shape and colour with your words and the audience’s reactions. (This experience, incidentally, is one of the reasons why I heartily recommend oral storytelling to writers. It’s an incredibly illuminative process.)
The same is true of the written word. A story can be perfectly honed, edited and polished to the highest degree, full of insight and magic and beautiful words, yet without a reader, it is just so much noise, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing (to pinch from The Bard).
When you write, you share something of how you understand the world. You slave over those words so that others can share the joy, the anguish, the hilarity, the enlightenment, the banality, the stupidity, the anger, the cupidity and maybe, just maybe, be moved.
But here’s the kicker. They can’t share those things unless you show your work to them.
I know how hard this can be. When I first started writing, I didn’t want anyone to read anything, in case they didn’t like it. ‘It isn’t finished!’ was my catchcry. ‘It still needs work’ was my forestalling phrase as I reluctantly handed things over, before literally running away so that I didn’t have to see the disappointment or – worse – the boredom written on their faces.
you can’t know what’s working and what’s not until someone sees it and tell you. And not just your friends and family. They’re great to have in your corner, but if you want to be a writer, you need to engage with strangers. People who don’t already know and love you.
So I girded my loins and entered competitions. And… I failed to make the second round. Devastating. I submitted to publishers. I got rejected. Harsh. But illuminating.
I read those comments through my fingers, but I read them. And I thought about them. And I learnt about where I was succeeding and where I was failing. And I did more work with those things in mind. And I got better.
And that (eventually) led to publication and universal acclaim!
There was publication. But not universal acclaim. The other day, I got a bad review. It wasn’t a complete demolition, but the reviewer said that she thought my heroine was irritating, her lover was stupid and the whole thing was clichéd (the last bit was the hardest to take).
Now, I will be taking a good hard look at that review. The person who wrote it is part of my target market and if I can do better for her next time, I will. But it’s also true that you can’t please all the people all of the time and this might be one of those times.
And this is really the point I want to make for those of you working away, looking towards publication and sharing your unique view of the world.
Not everybody will like you or your work.
That will hurt.
It’s still worth putting your work out there.
Because along with the people who think your book is dumb, there will be darling souls who like it enough to nominate it for an ARRA award for their favourite contemporary romance for 2012. (An honour that still gives me chills whenever I think of it.) Or to write you a lovely review. Or tell you you’ve inspired them.
And those times – the times when someone ‘gets’ your work – are the sweetest things a writer can experience. It’s worth surviving the rough comments.
So, today’s lesson, if you want to be a writer, is to put it out there. Enter competitions. Submit to publishers. Dip your toe into the maelstrom that is self-publishing. Have some faith in your vision. You might get buffeted a bit in the process but you’ll come out a better writer for it and on the way you’ll find your readers. And isn’t that what this is all about?
So, what do you think? Are you ready to cut loose (that’s what that huge picture is about by the way) and put it out there?