There comes a time – or many ‘a-time’s – in your life when you wonder whether there’s any point in going on with whatever you’re doing. When you’re striving, putting heart and soul into a project, giving it your all and in return – nothing. Like you’re pissing into the void.
That’s how I’m feeling about this blog at the moment. Writers strive, above all, to be read. As I’ve said many a time, it’s a strange schizophrenic experience, writing. The process is a joy, a delight – the truest, most intense pleasure. But once a work is completed the only reward is the feedback we get from readers. No feedback, no payoff. Pissing into the void.
There are times when the work I post on here isn’t my best. I know that. Some days the words don’t come easy, or the only subject I can write about isn’t one I feel particularly strongly about. I hold my hands up and confess. But others – well, some posts I’ve posted I’m really quite proud of. Or contain invitations for you, the reader, to contribute. I’d never say I was hurt to be ignored, but it can be disappointing. I set up this blog to be informed by you as much as I did to rant.
This isn’t meant to be a downer: I’m not complaining (and certainly not to you, the person who’s actually taking time to read this). Just setting out another aspect of the writer’s life that isn’t really acknowledged. For most writers, published or not, being ignored is as bad as being slated. It takes a particular kind of stubbornness to keep on going when no-one seems to care. Even when you’re at the stage of submitting to publishers/agents, many will simply ignore you, not bother replying even with a no. Most published books go unreviewed; most self-published works slide gently into the ocean without even a ripple.
So what can you do about it? Well, I think it helps to acknowledge the truths of the business you’re in: that’s a start. And then? I’d suggest you get good and angry. Self-righteous, even. You have to be a champion of your work. Get pro-active on their asses. Be like the Little Red Hen and make things happen all by yourself. Be persistent. Let’s be honest, if you’re in the position to have work assessed then you’ve done something remarkable, worth being proud of, worth shouting about. This isn’t a world in which merit is trumpeted for its own sake. You have to blow your own trumpet, be bolshy, be assertive.
Which isn’t always easy. Even the loudest of us (the biggest blowers) have days when we just want quiet. If you’re anything like me you’ll oscillate between great passion and days of reflection and in these quiet times it’s hard to go push the world. But that’s just what you’ve got to do, unfortunately: go out and meet people, join writing communities, keep on pissing.
The void ain’t gonna fill itself, alter all.
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My Mum just sent me this, and I thought it was worth sharing with you. It’s CS Lewis’ thoughts on writing – referring to Spenser in particular, but apposite to all writers. Hope you like it.
There is a stage in the invention of any long story at which the outsider would see nothing but chaos. Numerous alternatives, written, half-written, and unwritten (the latter possibly the most influential of all) ferment together. Passages which no longer fit the main scheme are retained because they seem too good to lose: they will be harmonized somehow later on if the author lives to complete his work. Even a final revision often leaves ragged edges; unnoticed by generations of readers but pointed out in the end by professional scholars. There is a psychological law which makes it harder for the author to detect them than for the scholar. To the scholar the event in fiction is as firm a datum as an event in real life: he did not choose and cannot change it. The author has chosen it and changed it and seen it in its molten condition passing from one shape to another. It has as many rivals for its place in his memory as it had for its place in the final text. This cause of error is of course aggravated if the story is labyrinthine, as Spenser’s was. And it is aggravated still further if his professional duties permit him to work on his story only at rare intervals. Returning to work on an interrupted story is not like returning to work on a scholarly article. Facts, however long the scholar has left them untouched in his notebook, will still prove the same conclusions; he has only to start the engine running again. But the story is an organism: it goes on surreptitiously growing or decaying while your back is turned. If it decays, the resumption of work is like trying to coax back to life an almost extinguished fire, or to recapture the confidence of a shy animal which you had only partially tamed at your last visit. But if (as is far more probable) it grows, proliferates, ‘wantons in its prime’, then you will come back to find it
Changed like a garden in the heat of spring
After an eight-days’ absence.
Fertile chaos has obliterated the paths.
C S Lewis: English Literature in the Sixteenth Century, p 379