It has been said that writers must have the tendency to doubt and the capacity to believe in equal measure. Perhaps that is why I find myself dwelling on this peculiar, I mean particular, issue.
I’ve been writing for years, right? Along the way I’ve learned a few dos and don’ts. I have masses of information about my writing process and style, I have great tips about editing too. But, tonight, I’m not here to brag. Actually, it’s the opposite.
I dwell on this issue when it comes about. When I see others asking for writing advice, or even discussing their own processes, I shy away. I would love to be able to share my journey as though I am some kind of authority on the issue. Problem is, I am not really an authority. To give advice we must first surely believe that what we are saying will help in some way. How am I to know if that is the case when I give out advice? I’d love to be able to talk about things that I’ve been through because I know what an uphill battle things can be at times. I know what it’s like to dream big and I know what it’s like to crash.
Maybe it’s a confidence issue, in fact it has to be a confidence issue, because I just don’t believe that what I have to say is helpful enough to pass on. I’m not a writing teacher. I only have my experience in this arena. Yes, that experience is vast, but we all work in different ways, don’t we?
It’s difficult because there are times I believe I have something to offer but then I will withdraw because I worry others will think less of me, maybe they’ll think I’m trying to brag or act like an authority when I have no right to.
Writers should seek solace in each other and they should be able to lean on each other. But our “success”, if we dub it that, is so subjective. Some of the biggest names in fiction have the loudest critics. Even those on hefty-advance contracts still have negative reviewers. But they’re obviously doing something right.
So when I think about this, and about how valuable what I have to say would be, I always come back to the same, single question – when has a writer “made it”?
I believe a writer is a writer whether they’ve sold a million books, or written their biography on the back of a napkin. If you can sit down, write with love in your heart, and get to the end of a project (whatever it is) then you’re a writer. So by that definition, yes, I am a writer. But until a writer has “made it” surely their advice is as useful as the guy’s who wrote his shopping list on his iPhone last week. Ok, that’s harsh, let me explain myself.
Most writers will have come across this when they tell people what they do (whether professionally or for fun), people want to share their story, or their ideas anyway. So you have to sit there while your Great-Aunt Whoever’s, next door neighbour’s, gardener’s uncle tells you about how they sat down to write their book. Chances are they never finished it, chances are this was thirty years ago, whatever, people have advice to give even without authority.
I can tell you how to write a book. I could write a book on how to write a book. But that would be one book I’d never let anyone read. I want to be helpful, I want to be a part of the writing community and offer words of support and guidance. Trouble is, what gives me the right? I’m no better than the gardener’s uncle, am I? Or if I am why is that? What gives us the right?
This is useless meandering again, I suppose, because there is no quantifiable answer. If one book is sold, is that enough? How about ten? Or a hundred? Why not make it a thousand?
If I’m asked a direct question I’ll always answer it. Otherwise I lean toward, your guess is as good as mine…
Good luck on your adventures,