13 February, 2009

Your writing and the views of family and friends

Among the (too) many ‘how to books’ I’ve read, an ever-present piece of advice – sometimes offered harshly, sometimes gently – warns writers against showing their work to, or readily accepting the views of family and friends.

Reasonable advice once we're under way, by which time, hopefully, we're leavening their comments with expert advice on what’s needed if we're to stand a chance of being published.

But what about at the beginning?
When we had just a rough first chapter, the vaguest outline, or one or two ‘good bits’ that might work up into something? When those close to us were putting up with our anxiety and frustration, listening one day to our doubts, the next to our excitement? When we were asking ouselves ‘who do I think I am to be writing a novel?' Or feeling embarrassment at mentioning it? Or being afraid to commit?

Family and friends (well most of them) may not have known too much about writing but they did know us – and what our writing meant to us. They were saying ‘yeah, of course you can,' why not?’ ‘I like it,’ ‘keep going,’ long before we risked reading even a page at our local writing group, never mind showing work to agents and publishers. Sure, we knew at heart not to confuse their unconditional support with objective literary acumen. But it was all we had. What’s more, it helped get us going. ‘The longest journey in the world starts ... etc'

So, if you’re finally getting down to writing that novel, play, short story or poem, there’s time enough for objective assessment. Until you’re ready for it – and you must get ready – go on, inhale the oxygen-rich support of loved ones.

Of course, when you’ve finally something to show an agent or publisher, anyone for that matter, don’t say that ‘my mother and my wife love it.’ But don’t you dare forget that they do, and that they loved it at the beginning when no one else did. If they hadn’t, the professionals might never have got to see what you're writing.

This post was prompted by a long-into-the-night conversation at an Arvon 'Starting to Write' course in which some of us revealed we'd been given the final push to attend not by writers, teachers or books, but by family and friends.

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