This Old Thing – why writers shouldn’t hide their light

I’m fortunate to know many writers, each at different stages of their craft, and I’ve yet to find one who really celebrates their talent. True, there is the social media ‘woot’ when a chapter is completed or a word count is reached, but ask them to take a bow and you can practically hear footsteps receding into the distance. 

I think our US cousins have a more expensive approach to their moment in the spotlight, although even there I’ve seen proud pen smiths become shrinking violets. So this is pep talk for all writers, only with a difference. I’d like to remind them – and readers – about the perils, pitfalls, and dark clouds we weather as part of our literary obsession.

1. Writing is an amazing, imaginative and, on occasions, transformative process, but it is not without its shadow side.  Despite the tropes of a four-hour typing flourish with words streaming perfectly on to the page, entire and cohesive book plots arriving in your consciousness like the morning post, and characters introducing themselves fully formed with back story (although this one has happened to me a few times), the elephant in the writing room is that it’s bloody hard work. 

2. Maybe it’s changed now but when I was at school, creative writing was simply about telling a story and playing with ideas. Nuance, style and technique were prizes of serendipity and not hard-won achievements. Now, when you write to be read you can’t help but be aware that someone will (hopefully) sit down with your book and a cup of tea (other beverages are available), eager to get their entertainment quotient for the cover price. When you disappoint them you also feel that you’ve disappointed yourself and your craft. (Sometimes you can also hear the muse crying or ranting in a corner!)
3. The creative process is a solitary one and it has to be. You can’t enter fully into your own inner world if you’re still being pulled by the outer one. To misquote from my yet-to-be-contracted US novel, it’s a little like building castles in the air and then choosing the furniture.

4. Once you have written your book and gone through the seven levels of hell that are editing, deciding along the way that you love / hate / love / hate / are indifferent to your opus, you then put your baby on the stage and start contacting agents and publishers or prepare for self-publication (where you are responsible for everything). If you are successful you will attract the praise, wonder and ire of your peers – most of whom you’re never likely to meet except online. But hey, you’ve climbed a rung and those who have not are entitled to their own take on the situation. Well, as long as your editor or agent isn’t a family friend or a member of your family. That state of affairs is never going to win you friends and will dog you like a bad smell – irrespective of the actual artistic merit of your book. There is no entitlement in writing, but heaven help any writer who appears to have been given a side door into the magical world of publishing!

5. Let’s move the calendar forward. You are officially a published writer. Now you can call yourself an author and everyone will want to know what you write (insert genre prejudices here!), who is publishing you (and who has heard of them), whether it’s going to be out in paperback or ebook (e-sniffiness is an allergy affecting many writers), and the $64,000 question – will you be receiving $64,000? The question is a strange one since, in my limited experience, no answer is a happy one. Explaining that there was no advance will earn you the pitying look one gives an old Labrador Retriever that’s in its dotage, while a modest advance merits a nod of condolence. A large advance, meanwhile, earns you an enthusiastic response that translates as ‘you lucky (and probably undeserving) bastard’. 

6. The calendar skips along and your book is out there for all the world to see. Your greatest challenges are now, in no particular order:

a) Promoting your book without abusing the hospitality of your fellow writers, sounding like a cracked record, and spending so long on social media that you stop doing any further writing.

b) Not checking for book reviews like an addict. 

c) Finding new angles to promote your work.

d) Not  oversharing your happiness about your success, or – worse in my opinion – underplaying your success. I’ve seen it several times where writers have really gone through the mill and put their lives on hold to finish a book and then take on an attitude of ‘what, this old thing – it’s just a story really’. No. Bad writer. You jolly well stand there and take the credit for your efforts. 

To do otherwise is disingenuous at best and self-sabotage at worst. And it absolutely won’t help you sell books, which is part and parcel of your role as an author.

7. As bright at your star is, and as well received as your book will hopefully be, you will meet critics along the way. Some will have valid observations, some will have chosen your book unwisely, some will feel their expectations have not been met, and some…well…some people enjoy finding fault. 

Your star will usually fade – I won’t say inevitably as some authors buck the trend. Often though, sales decrease, other writers come along to steal your thunder and friends of yours who were behind you on the trail catch up and may surpass you. Celebrate their success with them and give them all the support you can because you know, from experience, the rocky path they’ve travelled.​


Amazon UK

Amazon UK


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