In the minds of readers…

This year I thought I’d dig around in my archives a bit; resurrect and breathe some life into some of my older posts from a time when no-one read this blog. There’s some good stuff buried back there. Well, I think it’s good. Seems a shame for no-one to have read any of it.

This is based on a post originally titled Birth, published on 12 January 2011. I’ve adapted and updated parts, especially the beginning, but largely it’s intact. It’s also quite timely, given I’ve just finished a draft — not that it’s anywhere near being read yet (wink).

***

Every writer invariably reaches the point where they finish something — a novel or a short story if we’re considering fiction.

It’s an exciting time, especially if it’s a longer work, because this means we finally get to have someone read the product of our labours. It’s also a daunting time for the very same reason. For my part, the thought of someone reading my story and passing judgement makes my stomach churn.

It’s weirdly ironic. We hope desperately that we will ultimately find readers who appreciate our creativity and vision, yet until we receive the validation of publication (or positive feedback), we live in fear that our hopes are in reality delusions.

I try to remember that Chris Baty quote: “Your voice is important and your stories matter. Someone has been waiting their whole life to read the book you are writing.” If that doesn’t inspire me, nothing will.

Writers need to have thick skins, along with oodles of self-belief. No matter how many people tell you they love your work, just as many will remain ambivalent (or worse). I’m lucky to belong to a fabulous writing group filled with writers and friends in both camps. The former help with the self-belief side of the equation, while the latter present insightful critical appraisal that — if considered objectively with said thick skin – helps shape the manuscript into something even better.

It’s true that writers must write what resonates with them personally, but there would be very little point if no-one read our creations other than ourselves.

And that’s why I think excitement tends to beat apprehension when it comes to inviting others to read our work. Because until a writer’s ‘baby’ is read in its entirety by someone other than the author, it hasn’t actually been born. The only way a story can live (whether commercially published or not) is in the minds of readers.

***

I think the above must go for all stages of the creation process — whether one is entrusting one’s work to a beta-reader, submitting to agents and editors, or bracing for the readers of the world at large.

I’m still at the beta-reader phase, having never actually submitted anything (except a couple of old short stories) to an agent or editor. Every time I peruse reader reviews on Goodreads or Amazon, I imagine what it must be like to have someone bothering to provide feedback on something I’ve written. Thrilling if it’s good. Mortifying if otherwise. (Just daydreaming.)

Thoughts? Comments? Do you think about such things when you’re reading or writing?

4 comments

  1. I like this post, Ellen. 2013 for me was a year of receiving quite a bit of feedback on two long drafts I’d written, and it was both wonderful to receive AND there was a lot of “ouch” in there as well. I really agree that writers need to have “oodles of self-belief” (I like how you put that!). Faith in our work. And those muscles can take time and experience to strengthen.

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    1. Yeah – when I first wrote that, I was about to get feedback on something, which was subsequently shelved as the result – although to be fair some people liked it a lot. But the ouch was very ouchy! Self belief is very hard.

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  2. Ellen, this resonated with me. I finished the full first draft of my first novel a month ago. I had pitched it to an agent and a publisher at a conference in October and each asked for my manuscript (partial-agent, full-publisher) when it was complete, preferably by the end of the year. I spent a frantic month revising, editing, revising, editing again. I just joined a writing group and they had only critiqued through Ch 2 before I had to send it off, so they were of limited help.

    So, it’s sent, but I know it’s not finished. I won’t submit to anyone else until it’s been through my writing group and a couple of other betas. I’m itching to get rolling on further revisions, but I know I need to let it rest and pick up the story with fresh eyes in a few weeks. I started work on my second novel over the weekend.

    Yes, I’m dreading the feedback. What I’ve had so far has been very just, positive, helpful and exciting, but still I fret, cringe and lose sleep. I’ve had several short stories published, but no critiques; acceptance for publication is tremendous validation, but I’ve never been given an editorial indication of WHY my stories were selected. It’s very strange.

    And yet I can’t wait for people to read the novel. I want it to live in others’ hearts and minds. Even if it’s rejected by the agent and/or publisher, sending it out meant I’d really finished something. Although it still needs significant work, in time my story will find its home.

    Cheers,
    Julie

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    1. Thanks for sharing that, Julie! It all sounds very exciting. Yes, a little scary too, but you must have done something right to get two requests on a first draft. (I confess I’m reluctant to pitch my just-completed first draft until I’m ‘done’ with it, because I have so much I want to do with yet… Kudos to you for getting in there.)

      What you say in the final paragraph is true for me too. Although I’d ideally love a trad publisher for my work to make me feel validated, there’s a certain thrill in just having people read it, and hopefully enjoying it. Unfortunately there are very few people I’ll allow to read it in its current form, though… It’s resting for a month or so until I begin revisions.

      Good on you also for getting starting on something else. And thanks again for commenting. It’s lovely to hear from you.

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