There is a lot of romance attached with the idea and ideals of being a writer, and many images that have come to be associated with it due to the presentation of writers through different mediums. Though probably not the one featured on this post.
We can apparently sit down at a typewriter or an Apple-branded piece of technology, begin with a blank page, and write out our final draft on the first go. All we ever needed was for someone to make us a coffee, set up a work area, and away we could go with it. In some rare cases, we might also do this at the local organic cafe, because being seen to be a writer is more important than the actual writing.
There’s good reason for it – other more successful writers are trying to throw every wannabe novelist off the scent! They don’t want you to know that it’s difficult – just that it can be done by anyone, with barely a second thought. They don’t want you to know that your words will reek horribly, that they’re going to take a shitload of work to get into something you’ll be able to read yourself, and an exhausting amount of time to shape them into ones others would want to. It’s better for them that you believe it’s a case of natural talent, like a three-year-old girl who can play the cello on her first go. Surely if you can’t write to begin with, you just don’t have it. Right?
Of course it is. You should give up writing RIGHT NOW!
Wait, no. Don’t.
Not all of the people in your life will be supportive of your writing either. They may think they’re saving you from heartache, or may just not understand why you’d want to do it. They’ll ask you why you write, and you won’t even know how to frame the answer. You don’t ask why they watch sport, collect stamps or go to concerts. You don’t look down on them for those, and obviously could partake in anywhere from none to all of the three. You may have goals for your writing, but that’s not a reason why.
There will be people ready to tell you that you’re wasting your time, or that you’re making a mistake. There will be others that don’t like your writing, whether it be your style, your story, your characters, your title, your name or your stupid face staring at them on the back of the dust-jacket.
You won’t become famous.
While there may be something great or special about you as a person, there’s nothing about your abilities as a writer that should put anyone in awe. At best, one might admire that you can continue to write instead of updating facebook, photoshopping cats into famous historical paintings, or writing faux covers of 80s rock with references to your favourite superhero. Some people will hate every word you write, beginning with the very first The, It or character name. No, starting with dialogue isn’t going to change that.
First word, THEY HATE YOU.
Not an easy thing to hear. You can console yourself by saying that they don’t know anything, don’t understand literature, and should roll back to whatever reality-TV-watching hole they oozed out of. Feel better?
We can do that with all of the criticism we receive. For now, let’s focus on the writing-related stuff. Our main character isn’t compelling? The person who said that probably doesn’t have any real friends. The villain has no discernable goal? Well, obviously they want to make life difficult for the protagonist. There’s a plot hole when the group leaves the village? MAYBE TO AN IDIOT WHO CAN’T READ BETWEEN THE LINES, FFS CAN YOU EVEN READ??
See, perfectly balanced responses. Not at all an indicator that you have your ego all wrapped up in your writing. You may not come out with anger, but those criticisms do provoke an emotional reaction. This is normal. At least, it happens to me also, and I think it’s to be expected. I know how chuffed I am when someone likes what I write, so it seems only natural that I’d be disappointed when others don’t. For someone that does think of themselves as a writer, no matter the day job they hold, it can feel like writing is an integral part of who we are. That we might be doing it poorly feels like a slight against our character, not our characters.
The challenge for us, which is so far removed from the imagery of being a writer, is to weather the criticism. We can’t ignore what we’re being told, but we must take it in with very thick skins to ensure we don’t brood over imagined personal attacks. You may not agree with everything you’re told, and as the writer, you still have that right – but you should at least take all feedback into consideration. You must cast away the ego. Having something not right on the first go doesn’t diminish you. You’ll still be the person making it better, and become better for it, as both a writer and a person.
“Remember: when people tell you something’s wrong or doesn’t work for them, they are almost always right. When they tell you exactly what they think is wrong and how to fix it, they are almost always wrong.” – Neil Gaiman