Writers: ditch your angst

Writers, we’re special, we’re creative, artistic, we tap into the hum of the world that ordinary folk don’t. Hmm? We are struck by ideas, by the muse. We struggle and strain to manifest our gorgeous ideas into words that will astound, entertain, move. We’re reaching for something and sometimes we get there and we send out a story or novel that strikes a chord, is published, enjoyed, rated. At other times we leave stories along the highway of our writing journey, discarded, littering

But that’s just it, sometimes we say the thing and it sounds right, feels right. But get ten people to read it and it might only hit home with one or two. Does it mean that our writing has only limited appeal or is it that it has proportional appeal to similar minded individuals that enjoy the kind of work we produce?

I’m assuming a certain level of quality here, a level the writer has reached where we’ve learned to uncover the grain of truth in cliché without letting the reader know we are doing it. Where we invent the juxtapositions of language, says things differently, are technically competent or have through thousands of hours of practice becoming intrinsically expert at writing without having to think too much about it.

The world is full of opinions and trends, many of them conflicting. Just some of the ideas I’ve heard lately is that flash fiction is a new and exciting genre with the punch of short stories and the fluidity of poetry or, opposingly that flash fiction is not something distinct, it’s just a writing exercise. Some people like reality TV, others the opera, we can’t cater for everyone.

Writers, we’re often subbing. We read the journals and the submission criteria but it’s often not possible to be sure whether our piece will hit the spot for the particular editor or judge. We all have different backgrounds and personalities and sometimes a piece of writing that makes absolute sense to us, will mean nothing to someone else, something that seems innovative and striking to one will be inaccessible and contrived to another. In entering competitions I’m often confused as to what to send in but it’s not always possible to hit on the right answer because of the subjective nature of reading and enjoying various elucidations on life.

I’m subbing a literary novel at the moment. Having finished writing it just a short time ago it’s hard to see whether it’s a solid novel or perhaps is flawed in some fundamental way (of course not!). But I’ve had readers who absolutely got it and loved it, readers who got most of it or preferred one storyline because they identified more with that than the other. We can see that even when a novel is published it may have many different critiques or even if we really like a book, we might still find an element that disappoints or didn’t quite do what we wanted it to do.

I’m also preparing to self-publish (sometime in May) my space/sci-fi comedy book Housewife with a Half-Life under the name A.B.Wells. It’s been out to some publishers who liked some aspects but not so much others, or who couldn’t quite place it in a genre that they were interested in working in. However I know the book has appeal, (and an extremely endearing protagonist, Fairly Dave) and that there are a lot of readers, both men and women, out there who love humour, science, psychology, surreal comedy, geek stuff, Dr. Who, the great themes of life and the meaning of life who will find something to enjoy in the book.

We first need to do all the things we’re supposed to do when getting your work out there: careful research of agents, publishers, journals etc, be professional and produce high quality, beta read, proofread material.

When we have done all that, I think it’s really important  to stop fretting and second guessing and adjusting our material (although be open to feedback and editing once a piece is accepted). We need to stop feeling so much angst about whether we are writing the right stuff for the times, or whether we are good enough to submit. Submit and then move on. Keep writing, write every day you can, write something, improve it, move on, write new things, be new with words and ideas and all the ways that fiction and the way we tell ourselves stories is changing. Get words out into the world and keep going, keep writing more and more again and be hopeful, always, rate yourself, be brave.

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7 comments

  1. I agree with a lot of this piece. It’s only begun to hit home with me recently that one editor or judge’s cupcake is another’s collapsed pudding. Before, I might have been disheartened by a rejection and not put the story out elsewhere – but now, once I think I have something, I send it out to a number of places. And it has paid off. A lot to be said for a certain level of confidence and lots of practice and to send stuff out and then forget about it – like you say. And then, I think, it has to come down to whether you enjoy the writing process in itself or not, because, if not, why bother with the angst or with trying to suppress it?

  2. Very timely, thank you. Judges are human and have preferences – how else would you explain the same person winning the same competition time and again … unless they are the judge’s sister (or they are the finest writer in the world, in which case why don’t they have a publisher?)

    Believing in oneself without becoming pig-headed is a fine line to tread and your advice is a great encouragement to keep going when it seems that only one’s friends are wildly enthusiastic.

  3. Keep writing and, most important of all, enjoy it. If there’s anything I’ve learnt through all the rejections and the few acceptances, it’s that. Easier said that done, of course. I want success and publication as much as the next person, but it’s the childlike enjoyment of the process, when we get into what some people call ‘flow’, that makes it impossible to imagine a life without writing.

  4. ‘Write something, improve it, move on’ Such good advice. As for the people that read and judge, it really is a case of different strokes for different folks.

  5. Excellent cheerleading, Alison. Writing, in the end, is like life. You work hard at it, you try to enjoy it, and hopefully there are people that appreciate at least parts of what you do. It’s your life, it’s your writing…your choice.

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