Get out of the garret!
Heard about the lonely writer who struggled in his garret for fifty years, bent over his trusty Adler (a sort of early virus-free word-processor) ignoring all other worldly distractions in order to produce the perfect story? By the time he emerged triumphant, fingers numbed, back aching, blinking into the daylight and clutching his hefty manuscript… the world had gone digital.
To the other extreme, take the ever-gregarious wildebeest. Some experts believe they don’t group together simply because they happen to be going in the same direction, or for security against marauding carnivores. It’s more mundane than that; they band together because (a) they like to chit-chat and exchange news, views and grass recipes with other wildebeest, and (b) because nobody else understands a wildebeest quite like another wildebeest.
As writers, it goes without saying that we need a bit of peace and quiet to get the ideas out of the bone onto the paper. We can’t all produce best-sellers at a corner table in a café or on the 08.15 to work. But it’s worth remembering that there is a world out there - a world containing a lot of other writers, all sharing the same hopes, burdens and fears. And it’s surprisingly easy to lose sight of this and become isolated, fixated on the idea that the only way to write effectively is to shut ourselves away.
This was brought home to me recently while talking to a new writer. She was amazed when I happened to mention that I experience the occasional rejection letter. This seemed inconceivable to her, based on a firm belief that, as a published writer, everything I now write - even on spec - must be automatically accepted, a sort of Gold Card access to the coffers of the publishing world.
Some might call her naïve, but further discussion revealed that she had never talked to other writers, published or otherwise, and had therefore built up presumptions which had never been corrected.
The fact is, we all need to network with others of our kind, in order to share common experiences. And this is probably more important for writers than many others, because we engage in what is arguably a fairly lonely way of passing the day. Some might dispute this and say they're able to work quite happily on their lonesome without interaction. Fine. But toiling away in a garret was never meant to be an industry standard!
There are ways, of course, for new writers to ‘plug in’ to what is going on, and pick up on some useful secrets and tips along the way.
Joining a writers’ group is one, and there are plenty dotted around the country, usually meeting once a month. This may not be everybody’s cup of tea at first, faced with a group of confident faces with tales of output, word count, competition successes and how they are just waiting to hear the good news about their latest submission.
But don’t be put off; most groups are welcoming and eager for fresh blood (in the nicest possible sense), and will usually encourage members to show/read their work for analysis by the rest of the forum. While criticism in such a face-to-face manner can seem a little daunting, the wise writer will cherry-pick the comments and gain some gold dust to take away with them.
The benefit is that being able to talk about your writing is a surprisingly useful way of making you think about it in the wider sense - as is being able to comment on the writing of others. As a consequence, you might well spot ways of adjusting and improving the way you work and develop some ideas for future projects.
Literary fairs or exhibitions are also great meeting places for writers of all genres. The subjects under discussion will be broad, and you might have to pick and choose to find your particular area of interest. But these events often include workshops hosted by professionals, where writers of every level can pick up all manner of information and advice about the art of writing, as well as how to go about the basics of doing background research, making submissions and finding a market for their work.
Book signings and talks, usually held in bookshops, are also ideal trawling places for picking up tips and ideas. Most published writers are happy to share their experiences, and since most have come up through the ranks writing short fiction or features, you could say there is some degree of common ground.
On a more personal basis, finding a like-minded ‘buddy’ to talk to is invaluable. Especially on a cold, wet Monday, when the postman has just dumped another impersonal rejection letter on your doormat. One way to counter this literary kick to the vitals is to take time out and talk about it to another writer over a cup of coffee. Because ten to one they’ve experienced it, too.
But never forget - one of the best ways to combat a rejected story is to send it off somewhere else!
In short, problems which may have seemed insurmountable can often be brought into a clearer perspective when aired with someone who understands what you do… and most of all, why you do it.
Garret-hound or wildebeest… or a mix of the two?
It’s your choice.
TOP TIPS· Too much isolation can kill off creativity.
· Ideas need the compost of outside contact.
· Mixing with other writers can stimulate ideas and ambition.
· Talking with like-minded individuals is refreshment for the soul.
. The Writer's Help Book' - available in paperback and ebook.