Stop Writing Now! by Alexandra Peel
*Reader Warning: Not for the soft-hearted*
I’m going to speculate that other guest writers will provide a helping hand, a how to succeed, writing advice, or inspiration within these pages. Heard of good cop-bad cop? Well, I’m the second one. I’m the fly in your ointment, the knot in your shoelace, the ketchup on your tight white tee-shirt.
There’s a lot, nay, a shitload of writing advice on the internet, in books, word of mouth. All meant to be helpful, and nurturing. But sometimes, you know what? You need to get your ‘big boy’ pants on and face up to reality.
Writing is hard. Bloody hard. And if it isn’t, then you’re probably doing it wrong, or you’re a genius. I know, I know, being harsh isn’t helpful if you’re in a tough spot, so stop here if you’re feeling fragile… go on, I’ll give you time to duck out…
Okay, hardcore left? Of course, you need to take are of yourself, but stop making excuses and either do it or don’t. Can you write? Are you any good? Honestly? Are you playing a little game with yourself, being an author as some kind of airy-fairy fantasy?
Are you interested in the writing process, storytelling, entertaining, informing? Cool. Or are you interested in publicity, marketing, promotional events – money? Then you’re probably an editor or publisher rather than a writer. Ouch.
Let me tell you a little about myself, to put my hard-nosed attitude into perspective. I used to be a visual artist, I trained as a sculptor then taught myself to paint. In the 80s, there was no internet. One had to take the actual work, in a portfolio, and tout it around galleries. Then you stood there as one or two people made faces, umming and ahing before declaring their disinterest. Much of the time they would comment on the artwork, making you feel stupid, unintelligent, talentless and so on. Every creative knows that each thing one produces contains a little aspect of oneself, so when your work is rejected right there and then in front of you, you can bet it felt like personal rejection. You constantly had to remind yourself – it’s not me, it’s the work. A little piece of me died each time.
Quite frankly, it was shit. It was hard work, physically and mentally – carrying an A1 portfolio around is tiring on the arms and back. Getting knocked back repeatedly, and I mean year after year - was disheartening. So, I get it. I know what it’s like, up close and personal. At least writers today don’t have to look their deriders in the eye as their manuscripts are rejected. So suck it up and write. Or don’t!
You need to toughen up if you truly want to be a writer. You need the hide of a rhino. You need to keep opening your notebook each day and getting on with the job. The first thing you wrote probably was not very good – you moved on to the next – in the hope of improving. And even after a number of years of honing your craft, you’ll still most likely receive criticism, rejection, and perhaps even mockery.
Rejection is going to happen. Remember, even the great authors went through this process, Sylvia Plath, JK Rowling, George Orwell, Vladimir Nabokov, Agatha Christie, Jack Kerouac ad infinitum. Remember Chicken Soup for the Soul? 144 rejections! There’s something to think about.
Now this might sound like I’m a hypocrite – but I stopped submitting after a couple of none responses and went down the self-publishing route. Not because I didn’t believe in the story, but because I am both lazy and impatient. I didn’t want to keep searching through the mountains of publishing houses and editors to find ‘my match’ and then have to wait 6 – 12 months for a response. My thinking was that, if someone accepted it after that length of time, then I had to re-edit it, I would be bored of it. I want the stories gone and away so I can move onto my next idea. (I read somewhere that Philip K Dick only ever submitted his first draft – there you go, done and done.)
I have a backlog of drafts and I don’t want to be returning to an old project when I am in the middle of a completely different genre. Self-publishing means that I can forget about it – it’s out of my system.
The downside is that self-published books rarely get reviewed. I know some authors have a dedicated little team of pals, family, social media associates, who will support and review. But it’s not the same as having gone through a big trad house. Also, no editorial team has your back, so you have to do the ‘legwork’ and go out and find one. It’s time consuming. In fact, one might argue that as much if not more time is spent on the post-production (to use a digital media term), and distribution than on the actual writing. Is this what you want to do?
How many books do you think are published every year? Figures range from 500,000 to one million. However, if you include self-published authors, you’re looking at close to 4 million new book titles published each year. That’s a fucking lot of books! Did you really need to add to them? Picture a sea of books and your little effort bobbing around in there somewhere, lonely, unnoticed, unread… Damn!
The number of self-published books has increased by 264% in the last five years. That’s your competition. Yeah, yeah, I know there are lovely people on Twitter who proclaim that no other author is competition, we’re all in this together and should support each other. Bollocks. You don’t think Simon & Schuster regard Penguin as competition? You think every pizza house in New York regards every other pizza house as a ‘supportive community’? Seriously, whatever you produce is up against an absolute tsunami of similar. Being a great writer doesn’t always mean you will get noticed. And being a great promoter doesn’t mean you work is good.
That’s harsh, I hear you say. Well buckle up, it’s getting tougher.
What if I said your stories are shit? Fine, you say, that’s your opinion (after you stab pins in a photo of me that you printed off). Now let’s add another reader, then another. When do you decide enough is enough? When do you think – hm, is my writing really bad, or am I targeting the wrong market, or are they just a bunch of nasty feckers?
In an interview, I was asked what advice I would give to aspiring writers – I said don’t. Let’s imagine a scenario where you know with absolute certainty, that you will be dead in six months. Gone. Just like that. Do you still write? Be honest.
If you can’t be bothered to listen to constructive criticism. If you join a writing group and the words of your fellow writers fall on deaf ears. If you disregard advice. If you can’t be bothered editing. If you don’t want to know what people think of it. If you think ‘it’ll do’. If you want to make money. If you want fame. If you get shirty when you read critiques. If you cry when you get a rejection. Then don’t, for goodness sakes, be a writer.
Remember at the very beginning I mentioned someone might write about inspiring writers? Well, here’s my take, some un-Inspiring words from famous authors –
The first draft of everything is shit. -Ernest Hemingway
Did he mean the first draft of his books, or in general? I reckon he meant everyone’s. Not necessarily true, but don’t think that the first thing you put down is wonderful and complete. It almost certainly isn’t. If you are truly interested in honing your craft, rather than making money. Re-write it.
If you have any young friends who aspire to become writers, the second greatest favor [sic] you can do them is to present them with copies of The Elements of Style. The first greatest, of course, is to shoot them now, while they’re happy. – Dorothy Parker
Ah, Dotty Parker, my favourite cynic. She’s right though. If you don’t want a lifetime of being under duress, of rejection, of public scrutiny – yes, people will cite passages from your shitty work, because once it’s out there there’s no going back! Argh, and even though you will improve, your original published pieces will haunt you – then don’t be a writer.
I would advise anyone who aspires to a writing career that before developing his talent he would be wise to develop a thick hide. — Harper Lee
Yep. Already said this. I don’t know how else to say it. Stop whining? Grow a pair? No one cares? People will say ‘there, there’ in a public space, yet privately revel in your misfortune, no seriously, they will. If you fail, it’s another chance for them to succeed. Ever heard of natural selection?! As the saying goes, if you can’t stand the heat…
By this point, I imagine that I have divided readers (yeah, I know I’m Marmite). Some will be nodding their heads sagely and putting this aside and returning to their writing, perhaps feeling a wee bit smug. The other half will be decrying my words as worthless, unnecessary, mean. I did warn you at the very beginning. So, I add this –
If you have felt that my words hurt – imagine how you will respond to rejection letter after rejection letter!
If you feel that I have been too harsh – do you think that perhaps I have touched a nerve?!
Know this quote, “The lady doth protest too much, methinks"?
Stop writing now, I beg you. Leave some room for the rest of us to battle the tides of indies and trads. Stop writing now, I beg you. Let there be less writers so I might get a chance to be noticed!
For further harsh advice, I recommend Alexa Donne’s YouTube channel: