I love questions. Especially open-ended questions that somehow make us rethink what we thought we knew, that entice us to look at ourselves or at life from an unexpected angle.
And when I’m needing answers to questions that jostle restlessly inside me, I go to the page. As my pen shapes each word, as it moves from line to line, I know that eventually, the solutions will begin to form from the ink.
As writers contemplating any sort of creative project, we tend to have lots of queries. All About Writing recently hosted a webinar with me and my publisher, Karavan Press, attended by writers of all levels. The following are some of the questions that we didn’t have time to address online. I’ve picked two common ones that were asked in different ways by many of the attendees.
From Fred: My memoir is so personal that, as Karina alluded to, I am questioning myself about whether my long journey of pain and redemption is of sufficient interest to others to be published – also known as a ‘crisis of confidence’! I need somebody to read it and give me a verdict!
Firstly, it’s important to discern the difference between writing your story for yourself and for your own insights and growth; and writing it with the purpose of sharing it because you believe your personal experiences have universal significance.
Get beta readers
Sometimes we don’t know which one our story fits into. The most important thing is to first, keep faith with our story and get it down on the page for ourselves. Then, possibly with the help of beta readers, you can discern whether it is more broadly relevant. And what you’re wanting is not a ‘verdict’, as in a judgement (because I believe no one is in a position to pass final judgment on your story). Instead, you’re wanting to test the waters of potential readers to see if there is resonance, a niche audience somewhere out there that needs what you want to share.
Find your writing tribe
Getting beta readers is one of the benefits of building a writing ‘tribe’ or community.
Find or create a group of writers of various levels who meet regularly and write together.
A community of fellow writers who want the best for each other, who give honest but kind feedback, commiserate when things are tough, and celebrate together when something works, is a real gift if you want to build a writing life.
From Gwen Wilkins: Cathy, did you set up the blog and social media posts to promote your book and get published, or were you just using them to tell your story?
Building a social media ‘presence’, (which is a bit of an oxymoron, because the danger is that too much time spent scrolling takes us away from our bodies and out of the moment), has been vital for my development as a writer.
I began to take my writing seriously from 2015, when I did the All About Writing creative writing course with Jo-Anne Richards. Around that time, I started focusing my reading on local authors and identifying SA publishers who were putting out good books and books in the memoir genre. Starting my blog and working to build my social media platform were strategic. I didn’t just want to tell my story into an empty room, with only my voice echoing back at me – I wanted to fill the room with potential readers.
Because I’m quite shy, social media is a very useful vehicle for growing my writing community online (i.e. stalking local authors and finding my readers). It’s much easier (& probably less creepy!) for me to tell an author how much I loved their book via an online review or a Facebook post, than it is to walk up to them after a panel at Franschhoek Literary Festival, for example.
Give, give, give
With social media, I believe it’s very important to give (a lot!) before asking or expecting anything in return. When you first ‘friend’ someone, or ‘follow’ their page, don’t jump right in and share a piece of writing or tell them about your book (Read this! Buy this! Like this!).
Rather, focus on giving. Read their posts, comment enthusiastically, celebrate and congratulate when authors share a win, share other writers’ blogs, write reviews about SA books, attend launches. On those days when you’re disillusioned and tempted to shred your notebook, this can be quite hard to do from the heart. But keep telling yourself that your time will come.
Then, once you’ve built a relationship and shown up for others, you can start to share your own pieces and put up blog posts. The comments on my own writing that I receive from my social media network, have helped hugely in growing my confidence as a writer.
But in the end, in spite of how captivating a good question is, how it entices us to think, we must take care not to let our questions become a distraction from the page. Questions can be a disguise for feelings beneath the surface like: I’m scared, I can’t, I don’t know how.
And often the best way to answer is to pick up your pen and dive into the page.
*Cathy Park Kelly’s book, Boiling a Frog Slowly, is available at all good bookstores or online from Loot. You can also buy a signed copy directly from her: email@example.com