I’ve always been a bit wary of blogging about my writing journey. I mean what could I possibly have to say that hasn’t been said – and far more eloquently – by writers who came before me. Probably better writers to. I mean, if Stephen King was in two minds about adding his experiences before writing ‘On Writing’, what hope did I have?
But that is the thing about being a writer. No two journeys are the same. Just as no two writers are the same, how we process and utilise our experiences will be different. It took me a while to realize the full scope of this simple truth: that the reason I like to read about different writers’ journeys is because I never tire of hearing how a first novel got written or the second book made it into the top 100 on Amazon or how it’s always, always book two that is just so damn hard to write (more about that on another day.) It clicked that I wasn’t alone in this fascination. So I’m writing a series of posts about how I started out on this particular path.
Starting out: Five things to expect
#1 That sinking feeling –
I had been writing since I was twelve years old (nine years old if we’re not going to take recognisable use of the English language into account) but I had never felt comfortable showing my writing to anyone up until January 2013. Actually I didn’t feel comfortable sharing my writing when I decided to ‘come out of the closet’ but my New Year’s resolution was to be brave and put my writing out there. It was pointless to cherish a dream of being published but not letting anyone read my work. Publishers do not send out talent scouts knocking on doors looking for reclusive, literary introverts who just might have written a real gem. On the other hand it does take no small amount of bravery to expose your writing to criticism because at this stage (and well into your writing career for many authors) you will find it difficult to separate yourself from your work. A criticism levelled at your writing feels personal. So expect a creeping sense of naked exposure, as though you’re walking around without your skin on.
Do feel proud of yourself for being brave. It’s really not easy. In fact I recommend a mini celebration – as once said to me by the wise Debi Alper, there is a lot of heartache involved in writing, make time to enjoy and celebrate your successes no matter how humble you think they are.
Try Not To take offence at criticism, even if it is blunt or harsh. It’s just that person’s opinion. If several people make the same reasonable point, then it might be worth considering if it’s a blind spot. Otherwise you decide. Don’t let someone else’s opinion put you off.
#2 The realization that there are still many miles to travel
Just because you’re now out in the open about writing, it unfortunately doesn’t mean that you are ready for immediate publication and fame. In fact if you were/are anywhere near as reclusive as I was, then you are going to find a steep learning curve stretching up into the mists hanging low over Real Writers’ Mountain ahead of you. That’s okay. In fact it’s good to have a direction and a point of origin – you can’t travel without those two things. The third thing you need, of course, is a destination but at this point it’s a nebulous thing subject to change. There will be pit-stops, false starts and detours on the way. A lot of the time it will seem as if you are not getting anywhere. It will only be later when you look back on how far you’ve travelled or when you read something you wrote then as opposed to now, that you will realise you couldn’t see how far or fast you were travelling.
Do try and enjoy the ride. It’s a long distance journey not a whistle stop tour. You never get to do this again for the first time, so as much as possible be in the moment.
Try Not To be too impatient. Okay I know this is like saying to a fire ‘don’t burn’ and it’s a serious case of pot/kettle/noir for me. All the same, impatience won’t get you where you want to go. Don’t be put off by how much you have to learn. Learn it well now and it will always belong to you. Ultimately do you want to be the best writer you can be or not?
#3 You are going to be doing things that scare you
Having said not to be impatient, I’m now going to face the other way and say don’t be hesitant either. Writing and sharing it with other people is probably not the place for implosion therapy but never even dipping a toe in the water is not going to help you either. Join writing groups. Exchange critiques – yes you. Read and critique someone else’s work. You will learn five times as fast how to improve your own writing if you learn how to effectively critique someone else’s work. Try different types of writing – flash fiction, poetry, short stories, blank verse, novels, fan-fiction, hai-kus… Try different genres. Try literary and less literary. The idea is not to explode your comfort zone but to push yourself a little more each day, gradually expanding your comfort zone. The thing I was most scared of was showing my writing to anyone. I started off exchanging critiques. Then I went back through a bunch of short stories I had written, tarted them up and sent them off to various magazines and podcasts. I got A LOT of rejections but I also got a fair few acceptances too. The worst someone can do is say no. That is a hurdle every writer needs to jump at some point. Starting small now will stand you in good stead later.
Do push your comfort zone boundaries with small challenges, gradually building up to bigger ones.
Try Not To get discouraged if you don’t make a challenge or get cold feet. It happens to all of us. The only person you are in competition with is yourself and the best bit is you can always try again. The only possible failure is if you fail to try. The rest is just varying degrees of success.
#4 People you know are going to find out
Yeah, that’s right. At some point you are going to be having a discussion with your mother about why you killed off the mother-character at the beginning of book one (much to your embarrassment and your mother’s amusement)… wait…no. Sorry, that’s my stuff. The example holds though. Non-writer friends and family will most likely find out eventually. And the world will not end. I promise. I completely understand why writers feel shy about this – I did. Still do on occasion. However readers nowadays like to be able to make a connection with writers. Gone are the days of writing under your initials and pretending that the book wasn’t by you. If you want to be published and to sell a book you have to hustle a little (a lot). What does that include? Blogging, tweeting, online discussions, author interviews, maintaining a website, facebook, instagram, tumblr, podcasts, vlogs… Potentially any of those things. Not yet maybe but one day. It’s not an option to lock up everyone you would rather didn’t read your book without access to the internet so Ipoint you towards the better option of dealing with it. At least as much as you can. Put out of your mind that your gran mind pick up and read the tome of dinosaur erotica you laboured over. Forget that the YA fantasy which you sweated blood over may well be read by your highly literary college dean father. None of that matters.
You’ll also find friends and family react in different ways. Some will want to tell everyone. You can only limit this to an extent and to be honest you don’t want to curtail it too much – word of mouth is something you ultimately want to generate after all. Others will just not get it. The writing thing. You’ll get answers that vary from ‘Why?’ to ‘But they reckon everyone can write a book?’ to ‘Cool, am I in it?’ to (my personal favourite) ‘I always meant to write a book but I just don’t have time.’ (As if you wrote a book because you had oodles of free time!) This is a smile and wave situation. Do not get angry. Do not engage further. They don’t get it and that’s okay too.
Do have an honest chat with friends/family members if you are anxious about them knowing you’re a writer. The people who care about you may not understand but they will be supportive.
Try Not To allow friends/family to get you down. Some people just won’t know how to react or won’t understand why it’s important or they may well just be negative arses. Don’t pick up their negativity and carry it (intentional or unintentional). You have more important things to think about. The same goes for if friends/family don’t like you’re writing or don’t want to read it. That’s okay. Were they really your target audience?
#5 You are going to get rejected
I know I’ve mentioned this already but it does need reiterating. If you have designs on becoming a writer who makes a living from writing, you will get rejected. Or more properly, your work will. From critiques that are a bit on the harsh side to actual notes from publishers, agents and magazines saying they don’t want your work, you will find your work accrues a fair pile of rejections. THIS IS NORMAL. And it’s not a reflection on you as a person. Remember, after you finish writing, divide the writer from the writing. You will not write something that everyone will love. You may not write something that most people will love or even like. That’s okay. I promise you that there is a readership for you out there somewhere and nowadays it’s a lot easier to find your audience. But this cannot happen if you let rejection pull you down. Feel angry, feel upset, feel down – go for a walk, take part in a martial art (nothing like a good fight in controlled conditions to help you get it out of your system), eat some chocolate, allow yourself a day of sulking. Then pick yourself up and get on with it. You are in it for the long haul, right? Ultimately rejections are tint pebbles in your path.
Do be kind to yourself. Rejection hurts, do something nice for yourself – don’t add to the bad feeling by beating yourself up.
Try Not To let it really send you spiralling into depression or put you off or self-flagellate. It doesn’t feel like it now but it is a small obstacle and you can get over it. Remember that you are not being rejected because you, the individual, are not the same as your work. You won’t win every race in life and often you get more value long term out of the ones you lose.
So that’s my five main things to expect on admitting to the habit of writing. Next time I’ll talk more about my early experiences with critique and how to give and receive valuable feedback. Thanks for reading 🙂