At what point does the aspiring writer tell people they are a writer? Articles exhort us to declare ourselves as writers, but knowing the first question one would be asked is ‘what have you published?’ it seems premature to talk about being a writer before someone, somewhere has printed something we have written. Of course the Internet and blogs such as this have changed things radically. Anyone can publish anything. And, it has to be said, they often do.
I first told people I was a writer when I was on holiday. I reasoned that none of my fellow travellers would ever see me again so I had nothing to lose if I didn‘t get a million pound book deal within the next year. At least I could truthfully reply when inevitably asked what I had published, that I had published two non-fiction articles in a professional magazine, had a flash fiction in a popular women’s magazine and had co-written a column for another. A bit of prodding would have made me confess the two articles were for small magazines desperate for copy and none too bothered about the quality of writing, and one article had been edited so shockingly I wasn’t sure I wanted to own it.
The flash fiction was in the reader’s corner (but I was paid the princely sum of £10.00), while the column, which had actually earned me respectable money was written in conjunction with colleagues where we answered readers' letters about complementary medicine. There were so few genuine letters we had to write the questions as well. Our names did not appear but knowing our subjects thoroughly, we had the satisfaction of knowing that the advice we gave was honest and sound, and we were very happy with the cheques. Fifty quid per letter/answer that we could knock out in a tea-break.
I obeyed the articles on writing and plodded on: racking up rejection letters, taking writing classes, receiving support and criticism in equal measure and, I like to think, honing my writing skills.
With fiction in particular, you soon learn that you cannot please everyone. The story that had everyone in the writing class laughing appreciatively will receive stark criticism for its lack of humour on a critiquing website where the contributors call themselves names like Inkyfingers and Novelideas and adopt a Simon Cowell approach.
Quite simply, if you can’t cope with rejection, don’t write. If you can, then carry on. I’m still racking up rejection letters but happily there have been a few acceptances too, some even with modest, very modest, cheques. I’m still waiting for that million pound book deal though.