Sunday, 12 August 2012

What do I think about people reading my work?

I’ve been dreading writing this weeks blog. It’s such a hard question and it creeps onto so many areas that I don’t know where to start and I know I’m going to miss something hugely important but here we go. Over the last six months I have come to really enjoy hearing peoples feedback and the thought of someone sitting down and reading something I have produced is actually quite nice. It wasn’t always that way!
            I have been writing down ideas and making jottings since I was in my early teens but with one exception I haven’t shown my work, never mind letting someone read anything, until the winter of last year. That one exception I still shudder at as I was around nineteen or twenty (I’m 32 now) and I read out a few paragraphs of some vampire story I was attempting. Now any friends reading this, or people who have read my short stories may be wondering, ‘Vampires? Really?’ and you would be quite right, I’ve nothing against them and I love Bram Stoker’s ‘Dracula’ and that genre and anyone my age who doesn’t like ‘The Lost Boys’ I don’t think I could have a beer with, but as for writing them, it’s just not my thing and I look back wondering what the hell I was up to, I haven’t written a vampire story since and how that person who was listening didn’t run away in terror, ears bleeding out of sheer bad language (I used the phrase ‘my love’ a dozen times in one sentence I think, it was bad, really bad…) I’ll never know. So that was a bad experience but I don’t believe that was why I haven’t shown people since, I have always been a private person and the belief that I was writing for my own enjoyment rather than any expectation of doing anything with it has been the over-riding factor. When that moment came, the idea of self-publishing, everything took on a different level of importance, it suddenly becomes a business, it’s not me anymore, it’s my name, it’s my brand, it’s my reputation, it’s my pride, it’s so many things at once that the simple act of reading becomes a hundred separate tasks. When I asked a friend to read my first draft of ‘The Silent Spaces’ I was no longer the person simply looking for a mate’s positive response, your average, ‘Well done.’ ‘It was good.’  ‘I enjoyed it.’ That wasn’t good enough any more (regardless if it was true or false!) I needed in depth analysis of the language used, the plot, pacing, believable characters, truthful settings…in short, every response became a review.
            That’s when things change because as I have said it was all about writing for my own enjoyment before and coming up with things that I found interesting, but now it has to be polished, I have to look at it with a professional eye. The interesting thing about writing, as with so many artistic fields is that the message you put out is not necessarily the message that is received, in fact most of the time people take from your work something that you either didn’t intend, or wasn’t the main objective; a minor part in your eyes can become something very important in someone else’s, so it is fascinating to hear peoples responses.  Then what happens is that my idea of what it is for someone to read my work, whether it is a draft or the finished product, changes. It is not just about me anymore, it is a connected, mutually beneficial arrangement, I want them to enjoy it, but I don’t necessarily want it to be an easy ride, I want them to be challenged and tested, I want them to struggle with it, to be upset by it and frustrated by it, because I want my work to say something. So if they don’t simply ‘get it’, then that’s fine because I understand not everyone will appreciate what I am trying to say but I can still get so much from them explaining why.
            So after a while the emotions I feel from people reading my stories changed. They went from plain fear and nerves about whether they would hate it and think I am the worst writer they have ever read questioning my sanity, to a sort of interrogative curiosity, I ended up not having a fear of whether they enjoyed it or not, but a fear of whether or not they thought it was ordinary, meaningless, forgettable.
I remember the first day of ‘The Silent Spaces’ going online, that moment when I typed my name into Amazon and it popped up, it was real, it was there and it was public! I went into work thinking that at any moment I would throw up, the train journey was hell, I was sweating, I was shaking, I thought any second the Who-The-Hell-Do-You-Think-You-Are-Police would storm the carriage, drag me out and give me a beating. The whole day was spent convincing myself I had made the biggest mistake ever. Then bit by bit I calmed down, spoke to colleagues, friends and family and over the course of a few days I was back to breathing normally. Then of course the feedback started and that was the beginning of understanding the importance of letting people read your work. Now of course I wish I had started years ago, doesn’t everyone! It’s just part of the process, putting yourself out there, the sooner you understand that, the quicker you open up, the faster you share yourself, the better. It is hard and uncomfortable for sure, no one likes being criticized, or maybe even ridiculed and insulted, but actually after a while you find an appreciation for it, you may never get to like being torn to shreds but you understand you can’t do without it and it’s actually very important, so the fear remains but the cause of the fear changes, I now welcome debate and discussion on my writing at every opportunity, it’s part of learning and developing.
            I look back at that moment around twelve years ago or so when I broke my cover and allowed my secret life to emerge, when I took my notepad and read aloud to someone, and I still cringe and shiver, not just for the terrible writing, but for the missed opportunity, the moment when I could have carried on telling people, the moment I could have started putting myself out there. What if I had started this blog then? What if I had spent the last ten years developing my writing publicly? Who knows, there are no should-have’s in life, you can’t think that way but I can tell you now that I am happy for people to read my work, painful as it maybe, because I can tell myself in ten years time I will be better, and because I didn’t tell myself that ten years ago, I’m making sure I’m telling myself now.

Hour's up.

Enjoy the Olympic closing ceremony everyone!

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