Wednesday, 15 August 2012

Life Lessons From Writing

People often accuse writers of being dreamers who retreat into their own worlds to escape the harshness of reality. While there is definitely a grain of truth in this stereotype, I have to say, my own experiences as an author have taught me many valuable life lessons that it may have taken many years to learn otherwise.

Far from allowing you to escape from the real world, sending your writing out there to be judged will quickly dispel your illusions and give you a strong dose of reality. Authorship is not for the faint-hearted dreamer, I can assure you, but a guaranteed way to rip your head out of the clouds and plant your feet firmly on solid ground.

Here are the top 5 lessons I've learnt from writing, which have helped to make me a healthier (and humbler) person:

1. Getting published will not change your life: It seems that everyone on the planet has a desire to write a book. There's just something about being a writer that is so appealing to the majority of the population, but as many writer's manuals point out, only a tiny percentage of people ever manage to start, let alone finish a book. When they do actually manage to finish a novel, most author's see it as a life-changing event. When that novel gets picked up for publication (or you self-publish) it's like the heavens themselves have split open and choirs of angels have appeared to herald your success. You dream of the new-found respect and income that will surely soon be yours. Then the book comes out, and if you're lucky some people who don't know you and aren't related to you buy it and read it. Some love it, some hate it, some think it's okay.  And life goes on as usual.

Life lesson:  Your achievements don't really mean that much to anyone besides you. Even your own family and friends don't care that much and some won't find the time or energy to buy your 0.99 cent book on Amazon.

2. Some people just won't be that into your books: Even when you've poured your heart and soul into a book and are convinced that everyone who reads it will fall instantly in love with it, it is an absolute certainty there will be many people out there who simply don't like your writing, don't appreciate your message and don't think you should continue to kid yourself that you can actually write. Even if you manage to write the greatest novel the world has ever known, there will still be people who feel this way about your book. 

Life lesson: Many of the people you meet in life are not going to like you or understand you. Don't ever let this prevent you from living (and writing) your own truth.

3. Criticism can be good for you: The other day I made a comment in a writer's forum about how I won't review books that are below 3 stars in my opinion because it could make me vulnerable to pay-back reviews from disgruntled fellow-authors and their fans. Someone implied on the forum that even a 3-star review these days is considered insulting to some authors and could have the same result. Since when is a 3-star review considered a 'bad' review? There are so many 4 and 5 star reviews being thrown around for first-time authors that I believe it's making the whole review system irrelevant. I know that reviews are based on subjective opinion, but when the classics and Shakespeare are being ranked alongside a first-time indie book that is riddled with typos and grammatical errors, then something is truly rotten in the state of Denmark (yes, I include my own self-pubbed books in this assessment). There is such a thing as literary merit, and authors (especially newbies) need to toughen up and accept that their first books are not works of sheer genius deserving only of unqualified praise.

Life lesson:  Don't ever believe you are beyond criticism. Keep an open mind and don't let your ego get in the way of the truth, no matter how painful it might be. Develop the wisdom to know the difference between constructive advice and mean-spirited comments designed only to tear you down.

4. Sour grapes are a waste of energy: It can be very discouraging for authors to see books they consider undeserving rocket to the top of the bestsellers lists while their own books languish at the bottom with all the other undiscovered masterpieces.

Life Lesson: Newsflash: Life is unfair. Get used to it.

5. Don't believe the hype: Everyone knows that if you continue to try your hardest and keep believing in yourself, you will eventually get what you deserve. Wrong. How many authors toiled away in obscurity only to be discovered after they died? How many great works were rejected by short-sighted publishers and then thrown on the fire by despairing authors? How many ground-breaking books are mouldering in dusty attics even as I write this, and will never see the light of day?  How many brilliant books are there are on Amazon that have been drowned in the tsunami that is self-publishing and will never gain the readership they deserve? Sobering questions, but ones every author needs to ask themselves.

Life Lesson: If at first you don't succeed, try and try again....but don't be naive enough to think you'll actually make it big.

It's true that many authors enter the world of publishing with unrealistic ideas, but it doesn't take very long for reality to set in. If writing and publishing are fraught with disappointment and shattered dreams, why do so many people continue to write? I can only answer for myself when I say I do it because I couldn't live without it. Writing fulfils a need in me that nothing else can. If writing makes you happy and complete, then all of the other stuff doesn't matter. To find the courage and determination to follow your heart and do what you love, even if you never gain any recognition for it, is the most valuable life lesson of all.

This above all: To thine own self be true, And it must follow as the night the day, Thou canst not then be false to any man.
William Shakespeare, Hamlet