Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Being Heard

Woman writing, Ink sketch by Edouard Manet

The experts say we should write only for ourselves, for our own pleasure, for the joy of laboring to construct a finely crafted sentence, paragraph, or story. And there’s no doubt about the keen inner satisfaction you feel when you sit back after rereading what you’ve written and you think, “That’s not half bad.”

Unfortunately it never lasts long, that satisfaction. We writers are, of necessity, perfectionists, trying to pull off the near-impossible task of capturing in words the visions we have in our heads.

But we are too close to our own work to judge its success. Only by hearing feedback from others can we know whether we’ve come near to hitting the mark.

Besides, words are meant to be read by others. They are a means of communicating our ideas and stories to the world outside our own heads. To quote John Cheever, “I can’t write without a reader. It’s precisely like a kiss – you can’t do it alone.” 

Which is why it can be so demoralizing to be a writer whose work is not read. In practice being read means being published somewhere – in print, online, on a billboard or the wall of a bathroom stall – any place where it is accessible to other people.

In 2015, after many years of toiling on two enormous book projects that are still not finished, I decided I needed my voice to be heard. So I changed my focus. I started writing short stories after many years and I began submitting them regularly and systemically to literary magazines and platforms in both the US and the UK. And it’s yielded dividends. I’ve had five stories accepted for publication, while another was  longlisted for a fiction prize, and yet another was an actual winner of a flash fiction contest (it can be read here - feel free to tell me what you think of it).  

How many people will read those stories? I have no idea. Publishing can feel like dropping a pebble in a pool and then hoping the ripples reach the people at the edge of the pond. Sometimes people speak up and let you know they’ve read and enjoyed your work, which is always gratifying, but often they don’t. You just have to have faith that once your stories are out there in the world, your voice is being heard. And get back to your desk and keep on writing.