Last Wednesday, I read out an excerpt from my first chapter at my writing group. You’d think given I blog, enjoying writing and reading, that something like this would be a walk in the park. You might as well ask me to perform open-heart surgery.
If you don’t know me, I should explain I am the master of self-sabotage. If I could choose any specialist subject, it would be self-sabotage. Though I’d probably get it all wrong.
Blogging is different. I can think up an idea for a blog, do the research and published it within a day when I really want to. When it comes to my fiction, I’m wildly protective.
The novel I’m currently working on is a parody of 1950s hard-boiled P.I. fiction meets the Matrix with a twist. It’s probably the most mental thing I’ve ever written and I’ve been having so much fun with it. It sits so comfortably in my wheelhouse, but with enough new challenges that I don’t feel bored by it. So why wouldn’t I want to share it a group of people whose writing and constructive criticism I immensely value?
Writers, as a rule, are convinced no one is really going to understand them. I know I believe that. Maybe it’s a little true, but mostly because it’s become a funny little badge of honour. Hello, I’m a writer and I’m totally insane.
I mean, I’ve got a 1950s P.I. in my head. That has got to be sanctionable.
And it’s a big, however…
It’s never a reason to dismiss readers when they don’t understand your writing. Claiming your work is so far out there that readers can’t possibly understand your genius is not going to get you published. I know this. Which is why when my brilliant idea falls flat, I find it a devastating experience. Not because they didn’t get it, but because I failed to pull them in and see the world with my eyes. Back to the drawing board.
So, dreading it, I bought my first chapter to the London Writers’ Cafe, knowing that while they would be wonderful, supportive and intelligent people as they always are, the chapter itself might just be a big dud. I read out my chapter. Stuttering in every other sentence because I read like the buildings on fire i.e. very fast and in a bit of a panic.
I shouldn’t have wound myself up so much.
The very first person to speak, while making his point, summarised what he thought the story was about almost word for word how I would have described it. From the introduction in the first chapter, he had exactly understood what I was going for. Hallelujah. It’s like jumping into the void and finding friends on the other side.
Of course, there are things to do. I’m terrible at naming things so every location I currently have in my work in progress are placeholders. There are some grammatic and spelling errors to be cleaned up.
But I’ve never walked away from a group session with so much hope that I may just be writing a good’un this time.
What’s the point of all this? It’s not just to tell you that fourteen people liked something I wrote. But they did and it feels amazing. It’s to explain that putting yourself out there with your writing is a risk which pays off in a thousand little ways. Whether your writing is loved or liked or not understood or could be better, you’ve walked away with knowledge you can’t find by hoarding your work and never letting anyone see it.
Next time you have the opportunity to read your writing out and gain a little constructive criticism, take it! Find a local group or find a writing buddy. And if you’re in London, come on down to the London Writers’ Cafe! Without risks, we’ll never grow.
I don’t think I’ve ever been so excited with something I was writing. Look out in future as Detective Hex Kane may be getting a more thorough outing in the future…