This article was written for, and was first published by, Writers & Artists in October 2015.
“Everyone has a book in them, but in most cases that’s where it should stay”
Truth or creation killing put-down? Where would we book lovers be if authors did not have the courage to follow their dreams?
My fiction writing started in earnest two years ago. I had been writing opinion pieces on my personal blog for some time but had not yet delved into fantasy. Like so many readers, I harboured a vague notion that one day I would like to write a novel. I had plot ideas, and had even jotted down a few opening chapters, but had taken it no further. NaNoWriMo offered me the tantalising opportunity to see if I could produce a full script with a beginning, a middle and an end; to see if I had the skills required to create a story that others might choose to read.
That first NaNoWriMo experience was a total buzz. I dived eagerly into the challenge and completed my 50,000 words in just under three weeks. I discovered along the way that I loved writing fiction, that it gave me an outlet for so much internalised anger and pain. I produced as crappy a piece of writing as you are ever likely to read and it will never see the light of day. You can thank me for that.
Still though, I had enjoyed myself to an unexpected degree and wished to continue. To avoid losing the readers of my existing blog, who had not signed up to read make believe stories, I decided to set up a second blog. I named it ‘Dreams and Demons’, the roots of my ideas.
I experimented with flash fiction, stories of under 1000 words, and submitted to several online sites. I became a regular contributor to a weekly challenge hosted by Tipsy Lit, and received positive feedback from readers. Buoyed by this I put my stories up elsewhere: Readwave, Wattpad and Flash Fiction Magazine. Those who took the time to read commented that they enjoyed my plot development, the unexpected twists and dark themes. I rode high on their praise and the buzz remained.
When Tipsy Lit changed direction I sought out another home and found Yeah Write. I wrote micro and flash fiction pieces, winning a few of their weekly awards. My success encouraged me to explore further. At 99Fiction I won my first ever cash prize, which remains the only money I have ever gained from writing.
And then Yeah Write introduced moderation. Their volunteer editors checked each submission and would only accept those deemed worthy. It turned out that I had issues with punctuation and grammar.
I bought the Penguin Writer’s manual and studied its wisdom, but the fun had been taken away. Those well-meaning words of constructive criticism crushed my creative spirit. I continued to try, I wanted to improve. Grammar matters, and authors must be strong enough to accept critiques. It seemed that I could not.
NaNoWriMo came around again and I decided to see if it would work its magic as it had before. I sat at my desk and banged out those 50,000 words. This time I knew as I went along that what I was writing was below par. I had some good ideas. I could craft a story but it was nothing special. The longer form didn’t suit me and, after a year of creativity, even my short stories were running short on innovation.
At this stage I had been a book blogger for six months. I was reading and reviewing some fabulous works, many from little known authors who deserved wider recognition. I recognised that I was not, and never could be, one of them.
I am grateful to the editors at Yeah Write. They have saved me so much time trying to be something I am not. They have saved readers the effort of reading yet another poorly written tome.
I believe that my fiction writing has helped me to become a better book reviewer. I understand the skill and sheer hard work that is required to produce a well written, compelling and polished novel. I understand how hurtful it can be when readers criticise, the buzz that positive feedback generates.
I will still occasionally write a short story, just for the fun of being creative, but I no longer aspire to anything further. I will not be taking part in NaNoWriMo this year.
Jackie Law is a wife, mother, hen keeper and writer. Born and raised in Belfast during the height of The Troubles, she is now enjoying the peace of rural life in Wiltshire. She posts book reviews and other musings on her personal blog. You can follow her on Twitter here. Her dreams and demons continue to make her what she is.