Monday musings: The easy and the hard parts of being a writer

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Image credit: Denise Krebs, Creative Commons.

I have heard people say “I don’t like writing; I like having written.” I like both. I like being able to look over something I have written and feeling satisfied with the outcome. But I also very much like the practice of writing itself.

Maybe I’m like Porthos from The Three Musketeers, who liked to talk to hear his own voice. I like expressing myself. I like to be able to tell stories or get ideas across to other people.

I even like re-writing my work. When I was younger, I found I had no patience in re-reading my old stuff, especially trade journalism. Somehow, I could not tolerate reading what I had just written. But I quickly learned that I had to re-read, so that I could re-write and avoid the worst criticism from editors.

I also learned the importance of outlining. The hard way.

When I began my journalistic career, I would start an article by writing what I imagined was a good opening sentence, and then tried going from there. Eventually, I learned to delete that opening sentence when the story was done. What I was left with was something half-decent.

But after having to delete successive drafts of a long article with a deadline looming over me, I realized I would be further ahead with an outline. And over the years, I became a great proponent of outlines.

I like to tell myself that my writing has improved over the years. One clue that supports that ideas is that it’s now easier to reread my writing. I can re-read stories that I wrote a few years ago without shuddering. I find I actually enjoy re-writing my work, and I know how important it is for every writer to re-read and re-write their work before sharing it with anyone. I’m sure you’ve found some writing that makes you think “Didn’t this writer edit at all? Did they read it once?”

I find great satisfaction when I can turn a difficult or awkward sentence into something clear. Here’s the trick: don’t try to salvage your work by changing a few words here and there, or moving a clause from the end of the sentence to the beginning. Start over. Ask yourself, “What am I trying to say? What result or reaction do I want from the reader?” By going back to the basic question and discarding everything you tried before, you’ll get a much better result.

The hard part

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The hardest part for me as a writer is the dealing with the dread that I won’t find an audience.

As a journalist, writing articles commissioned by editors, you know you have an audience. When I was writing for Canadian Printer magazine at the beginning of my career, I knew that my audience was 30,000 Canadian graphic arts professionals. When I wrote articles for Macworld magazine, I knew the audience was around 300,000.

But now that I’ve turned to fiction, I know that, in addition to creating a story, I have to create an audience. That’s far harder, or at least a different skill set. While I have learned how to write, I have never been good at selling or at gathering a lot of attention for myself.

That fear is what has held me back from publishing fiction for such a long time. I have had the basic ideas for my novels for, in some cases, decades now. I have chapters and chapters of work in various hard drives, binders and drawers. I have not finished them nor submitted them to the wider world simply because I have been afraid of rejection.

Obviously, I have conquered that fear. I now have three stories on Smashwords and Amazon, and I’m working at getting my stuff listed in iBooks.

I am learning what it takes to build an audience. I’ve heard about the importance of the “platform” for the independent author, and I’m doing what I can to build one. I’ve increased the number of Facebook friends I have, joined Google Plus, created Circles, and, of course, joined Twitter. I’ve been blogging much more than I ever did before.

So far, it has not translated into many sales of my stories. I have seen some sales come immediately after a good review gets posted, though.

Learning how to build an audience would turn the worst part of being a writer to the best thing, for me. I hold onto hope it’s a skill I will learn.

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About Scott Bury