Tuesday, 26 January 2016

Question Corner - February 2016

Lorraine Mace answers a plea for reassurance

George from Somerset sent in the following plea for reassurance: I have been writing for a few years, but have never managed to get anything published. The only people who read my stories are friends and family. They all say they enjoy them, but if they really are any good, why can’t I get them published? I started writing a novel last year, but feel so disheartened I don’t think I’ll ever get round to finishing it. I often feel like giving up, but I really enjoy writing, so don’t want to do that. How can I get my stories published so that I’m not just writing for people who know me?

I receive similar emails every month. So many writers worry they will never be published and hover on the brink of giving up. Some do, of course, but the majority continue because they cannot imagine a life where they no longer write.

In your case, you at least have family and friends who read your work and encourage you to continue. Some writers don’t even have that kind of support system. I know that doesn’t answer your question, but I wanted to make the point that true writers never give up and the fact that you have sent in your email shows you are a long way from throwing in the towel – even if you think you’re close to doing so!

The most important point in your email was that you enjoy writing. So why not take a moment to look at why you write. We all want to be published and strive to fit publishers’ guidelines, but ironically we are more likely to be successful if we write what makes us happy – prose or poetry that makes our own hearts sing stands a better chance of being chosen than something written to conform to rules.

So, having accepted you are not going to give up, what can you do to ensure a greater audience than family and friends?

Be self-critical
You are getting despondent because you haven’t yet had success and fear you’re not good enough, but are you sending out work too soon? How many times do you rewrite your stories before submission? No matter how good a writer you are, first, second or even third drafts are unlikely to be polished enough to win prizes or be picked for a magazine.

Put your work away for at least a week between drafts and edit from a hard copy, not on the computer. It is much easier to spot clunky sentences, repetitions and plot holes on paper than when reading on a screen.

Get critical feedback
One of the problems with friends and family is that they are unlikely to tell you the truth about things they don’t like and will only mention the good points. This is not helpful in the long term. Are you a member of a group where you receive feedback from other writers?

If there isn’t a group in your area, or the timing doesn’t work for you, join an online group. If only one person mentions a problem it’s still worth thinking about it, but probably not something to worry too much about. However, if several mention the same issue, you need to find a way to correct the flaw.

Read, read, read
One of the best ways to improve your writing is to read the works of others. I don’t mean to copy their style or content, but simply to immerse yourself in good writing. If you read well-written books, you will subconsciously absorb the things that make the writing stand out for all the right reasons.

Start a blog
Pick a subject that interests you and write a short piece on it each week. You may not have many readers at first, but if you pick up even twenty followers, that is twenty more readers than you currently have.

Try to word the ending of each post so that you invite comments. Imagine how thrilled you will be when perfect strangers engage you in conversation about something you have written.

Invest in yourself as a writer
If success remains elusive, it could be that you are not yet ready to be published.

Read books, blogs and magazines on writing. Think about taking a writing course – either online or in the real world. Attend a few writing events where you get to listen to established authors giving the benefit of their experiences. Go to festivals where agents and publishers are talking about what excites them.

Never give up
The important point is that you should never give up. Many authors achieve success after years of rejections. Imagine where some of the best-known names in literature would be today if they allowed a few rejections to put them off?

Real writers never give up and your cry for reassurance puts you firmly into the real writer category. Good luck!

Lorraine Mace is the humour columnist for Writing Magazine and head competition judge for Writers’ Forum. She is a former tutor for the Writers Bureau, and is the author of the Writers Bureau course, Marketing Your Book. She is also co-author, with Maureen Vincent-Northam of The Writer’s ABC Checklist (Accent Press). Lorraine runs a private critique service for writers (link below). She is the founder of the Flash 500 competitions covering flash fiction, short story and novel openings.

Her debut novel for children, Vlad the Inhaler, has now been followed by the second in the trilogy, Vlad’s Quest (LRP).

Writing as Frances di Plino, she is the author of four crime/thriller novels featuring Detective Inspector Paolo Storey: Bad Moon Rising, Someday Never Comes, Call It Pretending and Looking for a Reason (Crooked Cat Publishing).

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