On my Blip with Twitter and Access to your Contacts

Photo by Liquidnight

Photo by Liquidnight

A few weeks ago I asked my husband if he would take a picture of me. I wanted to update my website. The old avatar was tired, a headshot cropped from a family photo. J was happy to help, and I posed awkwardly. It has always seemed a bit narcissistic to me, individual pictures, apart from if you are memorialising special moments like graduation or a pregnant belly. Later I uploaded the photos onto the website and my social media accounts.

Then something strange happened. I noticed that my new avatar had followed me on Twitter. Strange, I thought. Had there been a glitch? Had I somehow managed to open another account? I checked the timeline of the new follower. I found that not only had my avi had been used by a stranger, but that s/he was offering sexual favours. Compared to what others have had to deal with on Twitter, take for example Turkish journalist Amberin Zaman or feminist campaigner Caroline Criado-Perez, this was small fry. It still wasn’t nice.

First step: block that moron
Second step: report account for impersonation
Third step: shake off feelings of disgust

I was asked by Twitter to send them a scan of my passport or driving licence so they could verify the image was me. Then I pushed the incident to the back of my head and forgot about it. That was until yesterday, when I got an update saying that the account had been suspended.

My bad, here. I replied thanking Twitter. Then I checked said account and saw that it was still active. I wrote to Twitter again asking whether there was a delay before the suspension took effect. No response. Then I realised MY account had in fact been suspended. Both my follower and following lists were showing a big fat zero. Cue many tears, an appeal to Twitter and a pleading email begging them to reinstate my account. This, on the day that an internal memo was leaked, in which the Twitter CEO took personal responsibility for the company’s failings on tackling abuse and vowed to make it his top priority.

I reached out to a few Twitter friends on email and told them what had happened. I was after a virtual hug. What I got was more. I was blown away by the support online friends showed, tweeting their censure to @twitter, discussing how this was another example of a #twitterfail in which the community policies fail to protect users. Their support buoyed me.

Photo by Martin Gysler

Photo by Martin Gysler

My love for Twitter friends has snuck up on me. For me, my Facebook personal account is a place for real life family and friends. Twitter began as more of a business transaction, a place to increase my profile as a writer. It took me a while to learn the rules and rhythm of that platform. Now, it feels more authentic. A place for learning, sharing and meeting like-minded people. In comparison it seems to me now that Facebook weakens real life connections. It is an endless stream of Instagramed photos and pithy status updates. Like we are marketing our best selves. And well, for me, marketing belongs in business, not in our personal realm. Besides, with news from organisations filling our streams, and improving mechanisms for community interaction, personal updates on Facebook have begun to drop away.

My tears at the suspension of the Twitter account were an overreaction. It had been a tough week for other reasons. But I was also sad to lose my right to interact in a community I have grown comfortable with. Twitter is the base of many writing contacts, not all of whom I had other contact details for. I was not sure if a reinstated account was wiped clean. I feared losing contact with lovely people whose voices I would miss. Agents and publishers take into account the size of writer platforms when weighing up whether to offer you a deal. I had built up my account organically over a few years, and that work cannot be replicated overnight. Most of all, I felt a keen sense of unfairness that I had acted within the rules set by the community and had been punished. I questioned whether I should have reported the other account holder in the first place.

Less than a day later my account was fully reinstated. There was no apology. I was relieved to reclaim my relationships though my trust for the platform has diminished somewhat. But then, I have some issues with how much information Facebook and Google collect from me, and that doesn’t stop me from using their products. In fact, I love Google. It’s all about value. And the noise of hashtag overuse aside, Twitter brings a lot of value. Still, Twitter has a responsibility to protect its users better. Women, in particular, seem to be victims of trolling on this platform and there is no shirking Twitter’s duty to act more effectively.

If your writing success is even partially dependent on your contacts, you cannot rely on third party applications to protect your contacts. Why would you put all your eggs in one basket when the rules of social media are constantly changing, when you might fall foul of them without even realising it, or through no fault of your own? Nurture the contacts you value. Networking accounts for a lot, and you don’t want to lose access to your network.

As for me, I’ve been to-ing and fro-ing for a while about whether to upgrade to a self-hosted WordPress.org account from my WordPress.com one. I am happy with the current set up, particularly because of the automatic site back-ups WordPress.com carry out and eligibility to be considered for Freshly Pressed, which is a great signal boost. I’d also rather pay my yearly domain fee than a monthly hosting one. But with WordPress.org websites there comes more individuality, the possibility of having an online shop, and most importantly for me, better opportunities to grow your mailing list with plug-ins or email marketing solutions such as A Weber and Mailchimp. This latest experience has confirmed to me how important it is to have your own data.

I’d love to know what solutions you have considered for your websites.

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On Self-Criticism, Compassion and Progress

Photo by Alice Popkorn

Photo by Alice Popkorn

Hands up if you wrote a list of your priorities at the start of the year and if you have failed to maintain them. A new year holds such promise. Why do we set ourselves up to fail each year and end up feeling miserable? We try to give our lives meaning but what if it has none? Or what if it’s not about the grand gestures, but an accumulation of the small ones?

A few weeks ago friends came to visit us and we stayed up until the early hours. The conversation was happily disjointed. Thoughts were flung around the room and some we examined and others were left discarded with the empty chocolate boxes on the floor. We talked about how it was usual in our generation and circles for girls, as a by product of feminism, to have a dream. In many ways this is a good thing. Still, we questioned whether we were more or less happy than our mothers. Were our mothers more nuanced in their approach to happiness, less single-minded perhaps?

Serenity. For me, it is the most beautiful word in the English language. To me it says contentment and peace; not striving, just being. Have we forgotten how to find contentment in the present? It is important to set goals and live our dreams but let’s not write off the everyday moments that make us happy, the ones that keep us connected to ourselves and to others.

For me it is:

  • The moment of quiet when I first sink in the bath
  • The look that passes between two people when they are on the same page
  • Singing when no one is listening
  • Being present with a story, so much so that I forget myself

This year my resolution is to remember that happiness is the whole picture. It is not the small things we are critical of. It is our intentions. It is our effort. It is growth and resilience, not just a tally of failures and successes. It is all the colours of the rainbow. Happiness is not perfectionism. It is compassion for ourselves and for others. Don’t let self-critical thoughts crush your potential. Let me know the small moments that buoy you in the comments. Whether your start to the year is smooth or bumpy, you’ll get there, as will I.

Not for the Faint-Hearted: Using Critique Groups to Accelerate your Learning

Photo by Kean Kelly

Photo by Kean Kelly

In case you missed it, it’s Nanowrimo (I’m hearing trumpets, triangles and all sorts in my head right now). I’ve been writing my socks off and so far I’m on track. Tough spots are lurking for me around the corner though as I tend to get saggy middle of the month syndrome. Still, for now I am celebrating the fact that I am writing. My head and heart are fully immersed in my story world, my fingers are flying over the keyboard, I am untangling plot knots and getting excited. I even made my own rather rubbish first book cover (apparently, writers are statistically more likely to finish the month as a 50k winner if they upload a cover). What we all know though is that rewriting follows writing, especially fast writing. While I am embracing this seat of your pants ride, there will be plenty to fix come December. I mean, let’s face it, I am throwing words onto a page right now, and I’m lucky they are not throwing themselves right back.

Sitting at our desks, or in bed, or in that field of long grass, with your notebook or laptop, formulating thoughts, writing down those words…is what makes us writers. That is, first and foremost, how we learn what works and what doesn’t in story-telling. But how can we accelerate our learning? Craft-books, reading widely, online and in-person courses, writer blogs, book clubs, first readers, beta-readers (which I blogged about here), mentors, editors, fans all play a part. But what about critique groups? It is hard to judge our own work. Are critique groups – where writers submit their work to their peers for comments – a tool for increased self-awareness as a writer? Have you been brave enough to try one?

If you’ve been hiding your words away in a drawer or on your hard-drive and they are just for you and our loved ones, fair enough. If, however, you have plans for world domination, or say, domination of the publishing/reading world as a starter, it’s probably not the best idea to upload your lifetime’s work to the black hole of the internet without putting it through some robust scrutiny. If you do, you are likely to either end up sinking into the nether regions of the web without a trace, or your potential fans will not so much read your work with hallelujah choirs at their backs so much as devour it in a bloody frenzy, leaving a trail of one star reviews in their trail…(of course, you may be a ready-made writing superstar. There are always exceptions to the rule).

So, are you ready to go into battle Sir Knight and Lady Winalot?

Photo by Jon Jordan

Photo by Jon Jordan

The advantages of critique groups

  • The best critique groups will give you an honest appraisal of your writing. We are all a bit too close to our own work
  • Writing can be a whimsical adventure, but we sometimes need support to stop us stalling before the finish line. For those of you, who like me, enjoy Nano because of the sense of community, critique groups can give you both support and deadlines to keep you moving forward
  • They allow you to use the critique to polish your manuscript before you query
  • If you are open to listening – which is easier said than done when you are laying out your project, your baby, for criticism – critique groups are a great way to benefit from other people’s experiences, saving you time in the long run
  • Any hey, who’s to say your group even has to spoon feed you solutions? The best groups give rise to discussions about your writing, which help stir your imagination and unknot your own problems
  • It’s not just about you. But really it is. You will learn huge amounts by listening to the work of others and by hearing the criticisms they receive

The disadvantages of critique groups

  • They can lay your vulnerabilities bare and be hard for the ego. In fact, I would question whether they are useful if you come away each week with your ego intact
  • The biggest risk for me is damaging your confidence. Don’t risk attending a critique group if you are not ready to hear the criticism and it will affect your mojo. The last thing we want is to scare you away from getting the words down in the first place
  • You know those tried and trusted writing wisdoms?: ‘The road to hell is paved with adverbs’, avoid prologues, extensive descriptions, exclamation marks, regional dialect, the list goes on. There is a danger that we all consume the same wisdom and risk losing our originality. Let’s not turn into one giant symbiotic organism. Dare to break the rule, once you know them
  • The critique group only sees part of your work in progress. They cannot see inside your head and embrace your vision nor would you want them to (shhhh, else the magic will escape). For this reason their criticism of your novel is not based on the whole picture. Trust your instinct above theirs
Photo by Daniel Parks

Photo by Daniel Parks

Making the most of a critique group

  • Avoid disheartening misfires by choosing the right group to start with. Find writers with diverse backgrounds, careers and interests but with knowledge of the genre you are writing for
  • Don’t slack. If you have committed to bring work to the group regularly, shelve the excuses and deliver
  • Be generous in critiquing the work of others, but avoid providing solutions unless explicitly asked. You are not a co-author. You are there to light the way.
  • Avoid false praise and give constructive criticism without being personal
  • Make your own mind up on which points you will take on board for your edits. You don’t have to accept all the criticism (but don’t defend yourself at the group as your sessions will never end). If you find you are going home with no changes at all, you will probably find you are not being entirely honest with yourself. Write down the comments you receive so you can digest them in your own time.
  • Agree in advance how much time each member of the group will have to avoid Mr I Am Everything dominating the evening, you getting frustrated and/or feelings being hurt when you have to cut him down. Death by committee is no fun.
  • If you don’t click with a group or the advice is not delivered constructively, don’t hang around. Find a new one or set up your own (Nanowrimo forums are great for building friendships. What are you waiting for?)
  • The last thing you need is for your critique group to be a time suck. If it is not working, leave the group as politely as possible or use Skype as a way to connect without the commute

Setting up a group

Finding a local critique group was fairly easy back on my old haunting ground in London. But what if you are unable to find an existing critique group where you are and you fancy setting up your own? Here is what you need to think about:

  • Setting membership rules: who is the group open to?; who decides who is allowed to join?; how will you handle a member who is disruptive, dominant or overly critical?; how big is the group allowed to be (given you have limited time)?
  • Practicalities of a critique group: how often and where will you meet?; will the stories be read in advance or on the night in question (as a rule of thumb you are more likely to get better feedback if you read the stories in advance)?; how will the manuscripts be delivered and how long can they be?; appoint a time-keeper.
  • Critique guidelines: Line-editing is probably not a good use of a critique group’s time; clarifications of critiques allowed, but defending your story from a critique in an active session can lead to an emotional clash that takes up valuable time
  • Create a crib sheet of what is useful feedback. The writer in question may ask the group to focus on certain areas when circulating the story. For example, if s/he is after a big picture analysis, you might be asked if the characters behaved consistently and believably, if the story works for the target readership, whether the pacing kept you interested. If s/he is after a detailed analysis, you might be asked if the title is arresting or if you stumbled over any phrasing or imagery.

So what do you think? Would you try a critique group? There is a reason why admissions panels to many acclaimed writing programmes subject candidates’ writing to strong criticism before deciding whether to accept them onto the course. They are testing reactions to their challenges, whether you can defend your ideas and are open to learning. The question is, have you got the stomach for it?

Beta Readers: the Magic Elves of the Publishing World

Why have a beta reader?

A beta reader gives you feedback on your writing before you set it loose on the world.  You’ve worked on your manuscript for months, maybe years, and it is likely that you are so invested in your story that you can no longer see it through a reader’s eyes. A beta reader will be able to tell you if your writing is convincing, what is missing and what is holding up the story. Most beta readers will focus on commenting on the whole picture, although some may kindly make note of minor inaccuracies too. All this before you publish, upping your chances of impressing industry professionals and your readers.

I’m probably more comfortable with using beta readers than a critique group. A group setting can be intimidating, whereas a beta reader allows for a personal response to your writing. Often, writers find their beta readers amongst their peers. It can be difficult to find the right one though so here’s some factors to consider so the process goes as smoothly as possible for both parties.

What’s in it for a beta reader?

If someone has volunteered to beta read for you, it’s probably because they enjoy reading and getting to know new voices.  Beta reading teaches you to read with a critical eye; you learn to isolate what works and what doesn’t work in manuscripts, which helps your own writing. Then there’s the reciprocity of writer relationships. You might read for someone to grow your bank of contacts who may help with your own work in the future.

The ideal beta reader

  • Is a voracious reader
  • Understands what makes a story work: are the hooks strong enough for it to be a page turner; is the plot believable and clearly explained; does the structure work; are the characters convincing; does the location come alive; how is the pacing; is the language appropriate to the genre and target audience; is the point of view and tone the best vehicle for the narrative; is the dialogue realistic; does the story use of foreshadowing, imagery and symbolism well; is there a satisfying resolution
  • Knows your chosen genre well
  • Is knowledgeable about the publishing world and has good instincts about what it takes to get noticed
  • Won’t be nit-picky about grammar or typos at this stage. S/he knows that the beta read is more about the bigger picture
  • Is not a relative or a close friend, who may not come to the manuscript with an open mind or want to risk hurting your feelings
  • Is tactful and is able to critique your story without mortally wounding your ego

How to be a good beta reader

  • Make sure you can afford to give the manuscript the time and attention it deserves
  • Point out what you admire and why but don’t give false praise
  • Keep in mind the key elements of story-writing and make notes accordingly
  • Note the parts of the story you found gripping and the parts where your attention lapsed
  • Ask questions if something doesn’t feel right
  • Remember this is not your story. Only make suggestions for improvements if you are asked
  • Provide a written report and if possible include reactions written on the text as you read it
  • Most importantly, be honest in your feedback, but express yourself sensitively. Your job is to help make the story better, not crush the author

How to handle the process 

  • Choose a small group of readers, ideally 3-4
  • Respect a beta-reader’s time by sending as polished a manuscript as possible
  • Make your expectations clear up front, for example, the deadline (I suggest four weeks), any area they should focus on, line edit or overall commentary
  • Don’t chase. Be patient while you wait for the comments to be returned to you
  • You may wish to discuss the comments with the beta-reader once you have read them if this is acceptable with them, but try not to be defensive
  • Offer to return the favour should your beta reader need it
  • Show your thanks by mentioning your beta reader in your book’s acknowledgements, thanking them on social media, or sending them a copy of the final version. Extra brownie points for handwritten notes to say thank you

Surviving the feedback

  • Be in no doubt, this is a scary process
  • Try not to read the comments until they are all returned to you. That way you can read them as a whole. If more than one beta reader picks up on an issue, you can pay that element particular attention
  • It’s your writing and your vision. Take forward the issues that resonate – it is likely the comments will validate a gut feeling you already had – and disregard the rest
  • You are in the business of writing the best book you possibly can. Be prepared to make some changes if the comments ring true
  • If you find yourself ignoring all the constructive criticism, it could be that you are avoiding additional work. I get that. It’s hard when you think you are almost at the finish line, but you owe it to yourself to give your manuscript the best possible chance of success
  • Finally, don’t let the less favourable comments affect your confidence

Works of art are not made in a vacuum. They are, in every way, a collaboration. A beta reader can be one of the sharpest tools in your box. Don’t be afraid to use them.

Feeling Like a Writing Fraud

It’s no secret to followers of this blog or my twitter account (@nzstelter) that I write.  I write daily.  I write reports, briefings, proposals and correspondence for my day job.  In my own time, I continue writing.  I journal, write stories or blog posts.  I invent stories for my daughter.  Writing allows me to crystallise my thoughts.  It’s always a thrill to feel the words come, to find the right expression, to capture the essence of fragile, fleeting emotion.  But here’s the thing.  I feel like a fraud.

You see, what I like to write most of all are stories.   I have been getting more down on paper since being more honest with myself and others about my fiction writing goals as described in my post on writerly arrogance. But I have something to tell you.  I have yet to finish a story.  There, I said it.  My writing folder is full of unfinished manuscripts.   I thought it would make me feel better admitting that out loud: ‘Hi.  My name is Nillu and I am addicted to unfinished manuscripts.’  No.  Not better at all.

Self-sabotage

It’s that persistent foe, fear, of course.  If I finish a manuscript, it would mean that it was ready for judging, not by my husband, but by an uninvested beta reader in the first instance, someone able to give real criticism.  And then, after drafts 2, 3, 4, 5, it would be crunch time.  Would the manuscript be sellable or will I end up with a drawer full of dreams?  So, I guess what I have (sub)consciously been doing for a long while now is not finishing stories.  Coward.  Yes, you.  You in the mirror.

Being the best version of yourself

A wise friend said to me recently that she believes we can actively create who we want to be.  We can let go of the parts of us we don’t want anymore, and take on new characteristics, new skills.  You say that this is compromising our authentic selves?  I think it is determining who we want to be, keeping or adding elements until we are the best possible version of ourselves.  The key is to keep moving forward.

parachutingEmbracing risky behaviour (within reason!)

Staying in a safe place is not always in our best interests.  Sometimes we are chaining our potential and living half lives.  So how do we embrace risks and move past fear?  This is what I have found:

  • Naming your fears and writing them down is the first step to beating them.
  • Take small steps forward into the future you want to live and you will get there sooner than you thought.  Try not to lose momentum.
  • Accept that you can’t control everything and that failure teaches us how to be better.
  • Don’t overthink.  Trust that you will find the right tools, skills and support to face whatever comes your way.
  • It is unhelpful to compare yourself to other people’s journeys.
  • You are never too old/silly/fat/thin/gray to try something new.  Push past your comfort zone.

For me, there’s only one thing for it, and that is to bite the bullet.   I will be a braver fiction writer by the end of next week. Next week’s post, I have decided, will be the completed first draft of a short story I have been working on.  No going back now.  Have you ever felt like a fraud?  What small improvements can you make to get closer to your goals?

‘When someone shows you who they are, believe them the first time.’ Maya Angelou

‘Anxiety is the hand maiden of creativity.’ T. S. Eliot 

Should Writers Ever Self-Censor?

Salman Rushdie and The Satanic Verses

In 1989 my seven year old ears pricked up at the repeated mention of a name in our house.  My extended family are big film and music lovers and it would have been more in keeping for them to be discussing Bollywood star Salman Khan.  But it was Salman Rushdie who was the talking point.

“How dare he talk about the Prophet and his wives that way!”

“Why did he do it?  What is wrong with him?”

“He should have known better.”

Not one person in our immediate circle had actually picked up a copy of The Satanic Verses, yet there was an immediate ferocity of emotion against the author.  My family is Muslim and faith plays an important role for us.  Our particular strand of Islam has a modernist approach, which sometimes does not sit well with the rest of the Ummah.  Yet in that moment the entire Muslim world, the majority of whom did not support the Fatwa, still turned against Rushdie and said: you were wrong to choose that subject matter – some things are sacred.

It was years before I began to actually understand the huge attack on freedom the reaction to The Satanic Verses entailed.  It gained notoriety amongst non-readers in Muslim circles with breathtaking speed.  That book.  That blasphemer.  Fiction had intruded on reality and challenged the status quo, and there was no going back.

WomanWhy do writers self-censor?

I am no Salman Rushdie, but as I mine the caverns of my knowledge and experience for my writing life, I have begun to wonder whether some topics are off-limits.  What possible reasons might a writer have to self-censor?  History is littered with examples of artists being persecuted or punished by the state for their work in the interests of ‘security and castration’ (Jonathan Green, Encyclopaedia of Censorship).  The state has the power to contribute to the upward trajectory of artists, such as the patronage of Michelangelo or the support for Leni Riefenstahl in Nazi Germany.  But it can also seek to silence artistic voices.  Take Nobel laureate Liu Xiaobo, for example, whose writing, considered subversive by the Chinese Communist Party, is banned.  In England, Radclyffe Hall’s The Well of Loneliness and D.H. Lawrence’s Lady Chatterley’s Lover were both subject to obscenity trials.  Fear at such treatment might be one reason why writers curtail their creative vision.

Then there is not wishing to offend family and friends.  As a writer, you borrow, steal and explore the experiences of those around you.  Or you fear your loved ones will see connections to your own life or theirs where there is none.  How many of you have censored your language or the darker side of your imagination for fear of the reception a free artistic reign might receive amongst your loved ones?  Did Patrick Süskind think twice before writing Das Parfum or did Nabokov’s courage fail him as the publication date for Lolita grew closer?  With social media closing the distance between authors and their readers, do writers need to develop an even thicker skin to criticism?  Today, with the need for writers to engage directly with their readership, they leave themselves open to fans as well as trolls, and fear of criticism could well bring about a less brave editorial decision. As Salman Rushdie says, if a writer ‘is afraid of the consequences of his choice of subject or of his manner of treatment of it, then his choices will not be determined by his talent, but by fear’(On Censorship).

Self-censorship as self-protection

I also ask myself whether the exploration of certain thoughts is dangerous.  Have you ever stood at the edge of a cliff or a train platform and wondered for a fleeting moment what it would be like to jump?  Or stayed under the bath water for a few seconds too long, thinking what would it feel like to let the water obliterate you, wash it all away?  You then get up and carry on happily with your life, forgetting that you were momentarily drawn to the abyss. But art demands that you stay in dark moments, explore them, rinse them of their possibilities.  You cut yourself until you bleed onto the page.  You exploit the painful experiences you have long since buried for the sake of your writing.  Is that the sacrifice we must make to make lasting and memorable art? What if that isn’t good for you?  What if that turns you into a version of yourself that isn’t healthy?  Take Heath Ledger in Batman, Daniel Day-Lewis in The Gangs of New York, or Anthony Burgess’ and Stanley Kubrick’s Clockwork Orange, for example. Does imagining the lives of psychopaths and the most heinous criminals make artists vulnerable, leaving an inescapable impact on their psyche?  

Are artists also partially responsible for vile acts committed by audience members who emulate the depraved scenes we imagine, like the killers of Jamie Bulger, who are said to have been imitating scenes from Child’s Play?  Many films, including Scream and even Robocop 2 have been blamed for inspiring murder.  Excessive violence or sexual content in films can have varying impact on audiences – including desensitisation and imitation – or no influence at all. To blame the writer or encourage him to self-censor for the greater good seems to me to be a step too far when there are so many contributory factors, which determine how people act.  It’s questionable that any one creative work is a significant influencer of how people behave.

Should writers ever self-censor?

In his brilliant essay A Severity of Conscience: Writers and Self-Censorship, Thomas Larson talks about how ‘government and other self-selecting demi-gods […] dictate what is consumable in hopes of ethically uplifting or expunging our thoughts.’   In a free society, if content is deemed to be undesirable, however graphic or offensive it is, then its impact should be negated through informed discussion about the work in question, rather than blanket bans or the persecution of its creator.  In specific circumstances, there may be exceptions to the rule, and as Larson discusses in his essay, the poet Nissim Ezekiel came out in favour of India’s ban on The Satanic Verses, stating that its publication ‘was an incendiary act in the Indian context, for it could lead to rioting and murder, and no book was worth that’ (A Severity of Conscience: Writers and Self-Censorship).

Art is freedom, and so it follows that censorship of any kind is anathema to it.  To my mind enlightenment comes from exploration, discussion and looking at different versions of the truth.  The more we censor ourselves as writers, the less our readers can relate to us, the more our voice falls silent to those who need it.  There are consequences to telling the truth, just as there are consequences to covering it up.  Every writer must decide for herself what she wishes to commit to the page.  The decisions she makes come down to her courage, environment and the risks she wishes to take.  Over time, the markers about what is acceptable change.  The lifetime of art exceeds that of its makers and ultimately, now and in the future, we don’t have any control over how readers interpret our work.  Just as it is the writer’s prerogative to create fiction without his vision being suppressed, it is for readers to decide what they wish to read.  As Salman Rushdie says, ‘original art is never created in the safe middle ground, but always at the edge’ (On Censorship).  He should know.

Leaving Fear Behind

sunsetAfter I published my first proper blog post yesterday I tweeted about it and sent the link to half a dozen family and friends.  The chosen few, as it were: those who have been supportive of my writing dream or at least know about it.   Not everyone does.  I didn’t share the post on Facebook.  My Facebook account is full of people, who have known me my entire life and that was a risk too far.

The courage to risk failure

This morning one of my trusted circle asked me why I had decided to blog.  She hadn’t seen my website or the piece yet.  The answer I gave surprised me because it differed from the reasons I give on my About Me pages.  The truth is, it takes bravery to reveal your true self and to admit to your dreams.  You risk criticism, or worse, indifference. You risk public failure.

Trust: seeing strangers as friends

The reasons I gave for starting this blog are still valid: said friend who shall remain nameless was a pivotal point, I would like to champion fiction and share my own.  But I wasn’t being wholly honest.  I hadn’t taken a quiet moment to look inside myself and really search for the true answer.  A better technique on my first attempt would have been to write down my reasoning thinking of you, my readers, as friends.  Instead, I saw a sea of strangers and that scared me.  I’ll tell you now what I told Lindsay.

The whole truth

I decided to blog because one day I want to be a novelist, but at the end of that process I don’t want to find myself too fearful to share my manuscript with you.  This blog is an exercise in risk-taking and vulnerability, a way to share my ideas and writing in baby-steps, to find commonality with readers and writers.  It is an exercise in understanding myself better and finding my way beyond your superficial layers too.  We all have them.  Post by post, this is my way of overcoming fear and building trust.  So I say again:  Welcome.  Nice to meet you.  Be honest.  Be yourself.

‘Many of life’s failures are people who did not realize how close they were to success when they gave up.’ Thomas A. Edison

‘A man can fail many times, but he isn’t a failure until he begins to blame somebody else.’ John Burroughs