Step Away From the Desk: Facing fears and connecting with your readers

In 2018 I decided to wholeheartedly embrace being ‘a writer’. To do this I faced fears, took risks and made myself step up. I took lots of little steps and some pretty big ones too. I read double the amount of stuff that I normally read (According to Goodreads I’ve read 56 book in the last year); I sent off more than double the amount of stories I had previously ever submitted to competitions and open submissions (I sent 9, this includes having a small book of one of my stories, which I made from scratch, shown at an art exhibition!); I joined Romance Writers of New Zealand (Don’t let the ‘Romance’ part fool you. This is a very professional group of serious and wise writers); I entered a six-word sci-fi competition (my wee story was picked as one of the three winning stories and published); I asked some artist friends to draw some art for one of my stories, which I then submitted to a magazine (It was rejected, aw, but on reflection I can see why); I am currently reading/judging three excerpts of stories for a competition (Very insightful); I went along to the Wellington Writers’ Meetup group and suggested a shared challenge with two random people there (I think they carried on with that idea. I already have a monthly writing challenge, on top of everything else, so I figured one was enough); and I started up another writing group at work with staff members (So now I have two, one for staff, one for students, but I submit the same story to each).

The other major thing has been my online presence. I started using Instagram in November last year, so it’s just over a year now. After reading a book on managing social media, I planned Instagram as a preliminary step to take before I set up my website. And, yes, there’s also this website. I started it not because I really wanted to blog, but because I was sending more work off to open submissions and understand the people reading my stories need to see I take my writing seriously. So, even though it took heaps of time and brain power, I made myself do it. I thought ‘fuck it’ and went for it.

The question is were these things risks or were they just times when I purposely stepped out of my comfort zone and straight into places I knew were really useful for my writing? If a risk is doing something scary with uncertain outcomes, then they were all risky and definitely steps outside of my comfort zone. As a writer, my comfort zone is being sat safely writing on my own. But, it seems the more scary things I do, the less scary it all feels.

Of course, I make it all sound easy, like I just ‘did it’, but of course none of it has been easy. I researched, worked hard, used my skills and learning to make these things happen, but in taking the challenge I’ve also learnt more. So, ultimately, the scariest but best thing I did last year was standing up and acting like a proper writer and taking my writing seriously. In fact the more I think about it, the more I realise how much time, energy, planning and focus I’ve ploughed into my writing this year. But it’s been amazing and worth it. I’ve met some really great people and I’ve had two pieces of my writing published, and for me that is just incredible, a dream come true. But also just a start.

I’ll keep pushing myself forward. Last week I did something that had me shaking, literally shaking. My heart was pounding and my hands all a quiver. One lunchtime at work I was editing a story and figured it was finished when along came two of my colleagues. One asked what I was doing and if she could read it. It was one of my ‘fetish’ short stories, so at first I was nervous and said no. Then I very swiftly thought about it and told her, yes, I would read her the first paragraph. So I read it to them both. This was great practice because I hadn’t read anything to anyone for moons. But then, being all intrigued, she asked to read the rest. So, as I was then in a ‘yes’ mode, I let her read it. She sat down and read it aloud to us. That was so useful. I made loads of notes about where it didn’t sound right, where she had stumbled over a clumsy sentence, where she frowned, or where it just made no sense at all. So despite the massive fear, it really helped my edit. I ended up cutting another 500 words and now I love it even more. And I also got some positive feedback from them both, some giggles (it is funny and rude), and some new book suggestions (which I have just ordered- Patrick Suskind The Pigeon and Roald Dahl Switch Bitch).

When I was studying for my CW Masters, our groups would have workshops. We’d each read our work to the group and then we’d receive feedback. It was nerve-wracking (I used to shake then too), but reading work aloud is so very useful. It allows you to hear the words, the rhythm and the flow. It uses a different part of the brain than the quiet writer’s voice in your head. (I think it was Virginia Woolf who said she always read her work out to herself whilst in the bath, steamy bathrooms having great acoustics and ambience.) But we don’t often get the chance of an audience, so if you do, take that chance. Read it out, loud and proud.

This year, I think being brave has progress my writing heaps. Having a ‘say yes’ attitude has put me in situations where I’ve had the opportunity to learn, and it’s urged me to do things I probably wouldn’t have done if I had remained overly-cautious.

So, what comes next? Next is more of what I’ve been doing this year: reaching out and connecting with my readers, and writing more work for my readers to read. Eventually I’d love to stop physically shaking and being terrified when I read my work to people, so I need lots of practice doing this. Currently, in my writing groups, as time is precious, we don’t read the work out. We all have to make sure we’ve read each other’s submissions and made notes before we meet, but I think from now on I will recommend that we take the time and read our stories to each other. It’s great practice for future cold reads, it’ll be enlightening, and of course, fun.

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