Every year I write some sort of roundup of my experiences of the past year; my thoughts, feelings and new things learned. So here it is, 2014, in a nutshell… or three.
2014 has been spent mainly editing books, both mine and others’. I also read a lot for leisure but reading underpins everything and is as much a part of my job as everything else. Reading is a superpower. Writers who don’t read 10 times more than they write are really missing out. It is essential.
It’s interesting therefore that this year, I have read some badly edited books and still enjoyed them. Sometimes you just pick up a story and find something in it that rings true. Mistakes are an inevitability of life, not every book can be absolutely perfect. Sure you may begrudge paying a decent amount of money on something littered with mistakes, but there are a lot of books out there which are 99 cents or less and sometimes, you give them a shot based on recommendation from a reviewer. Often some of those books turn out to be gems.
A lot of people from all walks of life come to me with their words and say, “I’m an accountant, not a writer, please sort this out for me…” or whatever. I always tell people that words are words and if they are your voice, what could be wrong with them? After all everyone has a voice and a story to tell, so what if you don’t sound clever or literary? Every story is worthy. My granddad died an illiterate man but even now, my mum remembers stories he used to tell – so what does that say? If you don’t tell your stories, you might never tell them. Do it. Now. Don’t hesitate.
For every variant of writer, you’ll discover ten different readers who prefer your genre but sometimes cross genres for variety. It’s the variant in genre that usually attracts attention because it represents something new. There is room for everyone in the book world because variety is embraced and is becoming more embraced all the time!
Some readers love to have every detail of a scene described to them, from the colour of a sofa to the smell of the room. Other readers want everything left to their imagination except the dialogue and action. This is subjective and OPINION. It is all opinion. Everyone has an opinion. Everyone also has a mood. Sometimes you read a book and it doesn’t gel, perhaps just because you’re not in the right mood. Everyone else might be raving about it and you feel so bad because you can’t see it! Perhaps coming back to it at a later date will help.
There are even readers who cannot stand the writers they love in real life, but they just love the stories they write. Bizarre? It proves to me it’s not always about likeability or popularity. I always thought the whole point of being a writer anyway was that you didn’t want to be an actor or a model or any kind of public figure but you wanted to put out great stories, so you spent your time behind a keyboard rather than in front of a camera! That is what pseudonyms were invented for. Right? Hmm.
It is important to remember it is only FICTION.
More important is this: EASY READING IS DAMN HARD WRITING. Most readers read to escape. I am one of those. I love a book to wrap me up in its clutches and swaddle me until the final word. I want to have everything taken care of and not be forced to move while I immerse myself in someone else’s work. Which is strange, again, because the books I write aren’t always those kinds of books. Speaking to someone the other day who I know does a particularly stressful job, they said to me, “I don’t want to think when I read a story or see a movie… I want stupidity and nonsense to pervade my brain!” It made me smile, it was just another reminder… not everyone wants the same things from a book/film.
It’s strange also that even though I’m a writer, it’s not my most natural inclination. I was always better with numbers at school, like, much better. My daughter’s first report home from nursery school showed me she also has this early ability with numbers and her grasp of computers at three years old is crazy. So perhaps these skills of mine explain to some extent why I often write puzzles, why I see stories as equations, why the meat doesn’t go on the bones until I have the equation laid out! Seriously, don’t ever step inside my head, it’s really scary! Not everyone is going to get what I do, what I’m about, and that is one of the hardest things to accept as a writer and is yet your simplest and most powerful tool.
They say life is for learning and this year, I haven’t stopped learning—from my mistakes, from other people’s and more importantly, from the things we’ve all done right. The things we do right are the things that don’t teach us anything new but do teach us how to move forward. Moving forward is something we all need to do and separating from the babies we create in our books is hard, but must be done.
A lot of people think writers are mostly crazy people. They are. Most of us are. My social networks are clogged with angry, angry people who are angry, angry, angry about being unheard and unloved. As an editor, I’ve stepped on some shoes (gently) but in the end, my colleagues looked at the end product and knew I was right to tell them how it was. The process always begins and ends with the author. We’re the ones with our names to that work and that is a difficult thing to comprehend. Writers have to be self-editors (without hacking the heart away), conjurors, adventurers, believers, faithful followers, dreamers… the list is inexhaustible. The buck stops with you. So if you don’t agree with an editor, shout up, say why. Compromise if you have to. Tell them no if you feel passionate enough. Argue for what you believe in. Sod them. There are always people around to support, but at the end of the day that book is yours and represents you. Another great tool to have is to be able to take a step back, view your work as a “work” and not a love affair you’ve dreamt up. It is being able to look at it and recognise that other people don’t have a plug into your mind and they need to be able to see all you can see and more. Above all else, listen to your gut. Writing isn’t a science, it’s pretty much a game of contradictions and explosions of mind, but the gut knows. Oh, it knows…!
One thing this year taught me is that writers who write for themselves will never learn but those who write for others’ enjoyment and delight, well, the possibilities are there for the taking and with the right attitude, the future might just hold endless stories…
Happy new year! Always another chance, always…