Random Musings: So an author wants a reader to ‘get’ their book?

Writing a work of fiction requires skill, persistence and determination. An author pours a part of themselves into their creation, crafting that original spark of an idea into a world and structure that the reader will find coherent and engaging. Like a child, when it is released the creator wishes it to be treated fairly and thoughtfully, recognised for the essential qualities that have been so carefully cultivated. The author wants the reader to ‘get’ their book and to appreciate, maybe even revere it.

The problem, of course, is that each reader views a story through the lens of their own lived experiences, and these may differ greatly from those lived by the writer. Readers wish to learn of other lives and cultures but also to find aspects they can relate to. What they take from a book, what resonates in the reading, may be far removed from the author’s intentions. To suggest that this reader is therefore incapable in some way smacks of the type of elitism that is holding back greater diversity amongst writers and readers.

When authors have thanked me for a review by expressing delight that I ‘got’ what was intended I have caught myself preening a little. That fleeting feeling of fellowship is warm and fuzzy, a rare treat for someone who generally feels a social outsider. Yet all that is being said is that, in reading the words, I travelled the path intended. I spotted the signposts and followed, noticing the highlights provided along the way. Other readers may be distracted by personal demons, struggling to navigate because they have been taught to interpret differently. They may still ultimately enjoy the reading experience but in a different way. This does not in itself make them a less able reader.

I have been writing in detail about events attended at this year’s Greenwich Book Festival. One author there suggested that readers are no longer equipped to deal critically with fiction. The authors and publishers were eager to promote and encourage a widening of access to writers being published, and a broadening of readership. I ponder if this fine ideal would lead to greater divergence of opinion on what is regarded as impressive literature.

I regard a book as a success if it has been enjoyed by the reader. I understand that certain books I dislike are still well written, that it is the content rubbing against my wounds that has repelled me.

Other books, that have received a rapturous reception with reviewers expressing amazement at the art created, I have found dull. At times the impressed readers appear to regard themselves as somehow superior rather than simply having different tastes.

An author owns a book only until it is released. If it reaches a wide enough audience there will be a range of interpretations. Increased diversity means accepting difference. I think this is a good thing.

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Random Musings: The fiction writer

It started with NaNoWriMo. Write a book in a month they said, so I did. It was rough, incomplete in places, and in need of a ruthless edit throughout; but it was a 55,000 word story with a decent enough plot and some interesting characters. It had a beginning, a middle and an end. More to the point, I realised that I loved writing fiction.

That story will never see the light of day, but it served its purpose as my launch pad. I may use some of the ideas, develop a few of the personalities, but I will not attempt to turn it into a book. What winning NaNoWriMo showed me was that I get a buzz from writing fiction, that it is a worthwhile pursuit in its own right.

From there I moved on. From there I started to think about writing stories for others to read.

I had been blogging for about a year and had picked up a following that I was unconvinced would welcome my foray into fiction. I decided to create a new blog for my stories. Inspired by a Bring Me The Horizon song, Can You Feel My Heart, I called it Dreams and Demons. I have learned the hard way over many years that I cannot drown my demons, but my writing now helps me to let them swim alongside.

Having created my fiction blog I wished to find readers. I looked around the internet for sites that publish other’s work and found Tipsy Lit. They liked the story that I submitted for their consideration and my career as a writer of fiction was born. Although a few of my stories have been published on other sites by submission, most have been written for open challenge grids. For several months I took part in the weekly Tipsy Lit Prompted (now sadly no more) and then the Yeah Write Speakeasy. When Yeah Write introduced the Gargleblaster (42 word fiction) I discovered that I enjoyed crafting micro fiction and joined 99fiction.com. My success in all of these has been mixed, but in putting myself out there I have found readers.

The internet is full of advice for writers and I wanted to continue to improve. I enrolled in an on line Creative Writing course where I got my first slap down from a critic who objected to the structure of a story and my use of commas. Despite my best efforts with Google I have never quite grasped the finer details of comma usage. Structure though? My writing style is my own and I had no wish to conform to someone else’s ideal.

I wonder now if that was arrogant of me. The Yeah Write site introduced moderation and my submissions were rejected. I got a note explaining that one had significant grammar issues, the other was rejected without comment. It would seem that the moderator has the same views of my writing as the critic on my course.

Grammar matters and, as a result of this feedback, I have ordered a writer’s handbook recommended by a lovely author friend who runs writing courses for young people so knows her stuff. I will do what I can to overcome my comma usage blindness. In the meantime, the wind has been taken out of my creative sails.

Writing is always going to contain ups and downs, positive comments from some readers and rejection by others. We each come to a piece of writing coloured by our individual experiences, looking for something different.

On line communities ebb and flow. It can be hard to walk away from one that I respect and felt a small part of, but if I am unable to be what they want then I believe it is best to bow out. I find that I can be more honest in my writing than in any other aspect of my life. I do not wish to compromise the therapeutic value of that, even if it would make me appear ‘better’ in some people’s eyes.

How boring it would be if all writers were the same. As a book blogger I am presented with a plethora of works from a wide variety of authors. I do my best to be eclectic in the genres I request to review as I want to be exposed to different writing styles, to appreciate and to learn from them.

Perhaps the biggest issue with my own writing is my sensitivity. My stories are my babies and, when they go out into the world, I want them to be loved. If the cool kids will not accept us then it may not be necessary to radically change, but I suspect we will be happier finding somewhere else to hang out.

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Hanging out on line

I have had a Facebook account for several years. Without it I would know a lot less about the lives of many friends I rarely see. Of course I am aware that I am only being offered the briefest of edited snapshots of their lives, but still. Still it is more than I would otherwise be offered; I am grateful for the little that I am given, for the link into a chink of their lives.

I was encouraged to join Facebook by a friend with whom I used to exchange regular emails. Since he and I have been on this supposedly social site we have not been as intimate. Can a largely electronic, text based relationship be described as intimate? I think that it can. I regret our loss of intimacy as I value the friendship and felt that I was giving something back. Inverted selfishness; I valued being able to give, as much because of the benefits to me as for the hoped for value to him.

On Facebook I keep most of my settings private. I try to take care over what I post, particularly photographs. I try to take care over who I will accept as a friend. I realise though that much of this is an illusion. The real reason why my friendship list is so small is because there are few people who seek me out. I have never in my life been one of the popular people.

This year my use of the internet has changed. I started to blog and put out links to my writing on various sites in order to encourage readers to pay me some attention. Having spent years carefully watching and listening, I started to put a chunk of myself online, accessible to all. I started to say what I thought and, more especially, how I felt. I started to befriend the internet in a way that I had never managed with the face to face people I knew.

As well as setting up this WordPress site I made use of Twitter, Tumblr, Pinterest and Google+. It took me some time to get into the rhythm of Twitter but, at times, this is my favourite medium for news and expression. It offers soundbite communication and easy sharing of other’s musings in a quickly digestible, largely disposable format. When we attend large gatherings of friends and acquaintances isn’t most conversation like that?

I set up my Google+ quite some time ago but have only just started to use it in the past few weeks. I am not yet comfortable with the settings which seem tricky to manage compared to Facebook. Last week I commented on a Youtube video that amused me, and was quite shocked to see a link appear on my Google+ feed, shared with my circles, many of whom I know only from the blogosphere. I need to learn how to share more carefully on this medium. I need to decide how I wish to use it.

In general though, my active pursuit of an on line profile has made me less concerned about personal privacy. I question whether I have much to hide. I started to write under the moniker zeudytigre and that has largely stuck, but my Twitter account uses my given name and I now link it to this blog.

I also use my given name on Pinterest where I record my book and film reviews. I am not into cutesy craft, fashion or home improvements. I have managed to make this site work for me, the way I want it to. I may still add a board to link to this blog though; I want people to read me. I feel a sense of embarrassment admitting that.

Of all the sites to which I ascribe, my Tumblr is probably the maverick. I have yet to find a use for it beyond a means to take the pulse of a world of young people who know how to think for themselves. It gives me hope for the future. Whether or not I can harness it for myself remains to be seen; perhaps that will be my next project.

In November I took part in NaNoWriMo, an experience that gave me more confidence as a writer. I decided that I would like to pursue my fictional writing so set up a second WordPress blog as a home for some my short stories (Dreams and Demons). I also joined the writer’s community at Tipsy Lit (link via my sidebar button). I am gaining a lot of pleasure from this new direction and have had some positive feedback from other writers, which is always very satisfying. I still feel somewhat reluctant to describe myself as a writer.

With all of this activity to manage it now feels as though the internet is my hangout. I certainly feel more comfortable here than I ever did at physical gatherings of people. The one thing that I do need to watch is that I do not stop reading the books that do so much to feed my mind, essential if I wish to improve my writing. I can spend far too long on line.

As well as my writer’s pseudonym I continue to use my original avatar rather than a personal photograph on many of the on line sites that I frequent. As a back garden hen keeper, the picture of a mother hen with her three eggs seemed to suit me (I have three children). I feel more comfortable being known by that picture than by my face. Perhaps, in time, I will gain enough confidence to allow my true self to be seen more often.

As my children have grown away from me to pursue their own lives I have felt a need to fill the void that they left. My writing has offered me this possibility. Those who mistrust the internet and wonder at my willingness to open up to on line strangers may well be those who can easily socialise off line. As I am not comfortable in such an environment this space has allowed me to interact with like minded people who I would struggle to meet otherwise. My hope for the coming year is that I may expand my community of acquaintances and continue to find help and inspiration, as well as readers, amongst those I meet.

Finding the readers is a tricky balancing act. I wish to promote what I write but do not wish it to be the only aspect of my conversation. I do not wish to use my social networks purely for self advertising as that alone is bound to put people off linking to me. I am not yet confident that what I write is worth other’s time, that it is good enough to warrant their attention.

If this is where I go to party then I desire conversation more than mass attention. I wish to discuss, dissect and muse over the significant and the inane. I am interested in books, films, current affairs and politics; I am not interested in celebrities, cooking or fashion. I seek out the blogs and the sites managed by those who offer me insight and feedback.

Am I still only using my ‘friends’ for my own means? Perhaps that is all that any of us ever do. Perhaps the best that we can hope for is that we may also give enough back to make the interaction worthwhile for all concerned.

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