If I have a passion in life, (besides the Manic Street Preachers, Doctor Who, musical theatre and currently, Phil Lester's face), it's for writing. It's not uncommon for me to partially write a blog in my sleep. I frequently have ideas for children's stories whilst I'm doing something utterly mundane, like walking the dog, or making my bed. Writing is, for me, an outlet; a way to voice my emotions and beliefs, whilst also exercising my creative muscles. It's something I genuinely can't imagine my life without.
But writing is hard. Sometimes, you spend hours, hammering away at your keyboard, only to read your words back to yourself and hate, loathe and despise every single one. Sometimes, you just stare at the screen, watching the cursor blinking at you and wondering if you've forgotten what words even are, as the ability to form a sentence utterly eludes you. Sometimes, you write a piece that you're incredibly proud of and you unleash it into the world, your heart full and your nerves on edge, only to find that it has fewer readers than a review you wrote of a sandwich you once had, back in 2002.
There are days when a good review, or a positive blog comment, will leave you feeling absolutely invincible. Then, there are days when you see that nobody has even downloaded a free edition of your ebook for over a fortnight and you'll want to give up, completely.
For those reasons, support is absolutely vital to a writer. We need to believe that there's a point in carrying on, even when we can't see it, ourselves. We need to know that people around us think we're good, even when we've got such bad writer's block that our native language feels alien.
So, if you love a writer, know a writer, or even live with a writer, here are a few tips on how to support them. Because goodness knows, they need it.
1. Give Them Space.
I remember totally losing my place in a particularly dramatic segment of my recent novel, because a friend sent me a flurry of texts in quick succession. I'll be honest and admit that when I'm writing, I often ignore messages and reply to them later, but having had quite a few in a short space of time, I was concerned that something might be wrong. Of course, when I checked, the texts were all from someone who'd found a collection of funny images of pugs and had sent a load for my entertainment. Very cute and highly appreciated (who doesn't enjoy dogs in hilarious poses?!), but not the best timing. I fired off a quick message, saying I was writing and would reply properly later, only to receive a second flurry of messages in the next ten minutes. And, having about as much willpower as a chocoholic at the Lindt factory, I then felt it necessary to look at all the cute photos of dogs riding bikes and dressing up as characters from Star Wars, until I'd actually forgotten what I was writing about, originally.
Creative people tend to procrastinate at the best of times, so, if we say we're writing, consider us to have completely dropped off the face of the planet for an hour or two. Text, call or initiate conversation with us, later. And in return, we'll try harder to stick to the job in hand, so we don't get all grouchy at our own inability to stay on topic, once we've made the fatal error of glancing away from the screen.
2. Read Our Work.
Here's the thing: making a career out of writing is really difficult. I've had three books traditionally published and two self-published, I blog regularly and I run a popular Twitter campaign, yet I'm still in a day job, because I don't earn enough from any of that to just write full time. It's the dream, the career-goal, if you like, but it's not happening right now and maybe it never will. With that in mind, a lot of writers don't actually write because they want to make a fortune. They write because they have to. They write because they have a story that they want, nay need, to tell. They write for the love of it. So, when we upload a new blog entry, or self-publish a book, the best way to support us is to read it. It makes us feel like our hard work wasn't a waste of time, when we know that people we care about have actually read what we've published. If someone gives us a compliment on a blog post, it can be the difference between not bothering to write anything similar ever again, or realising that we might have found our "voice" at last. Knowing that the people around us respect us enough to want to read our work is a massive confidence boost. Most writers just want to know that their stuff is being read, after all, even if they're not making any money out of it.
It also works on another level. When I was writing my children's book, Seven Days With The Cherry Tree Gang, I made my mum read each chapter before I considered it to be "finished." She was able to tell me where I'd made the kind of typo that spell-check doesn't highlight. She was also able to tell me whether each individual story (the book has seven chapters = seven stories about the adventures the Cherry Tree Gang have together) flowed well and had the same tone as the last. Similarly, when I was writing my adult novel, Cracked Mirrors And Torn Reflections, I had a friend proof-read every chapter, to highlight any mistakes and give me feedback on how the story was going. Sometimes, when you're writing, you get so lost in what you're creating, that it takes someone else to say "hang on, this bit doesn't make sense," or "you've used that word too many times in this paragraph." In the big, wide world of professional publishing, that's what editors are for. But, if you're just starting out and you don't have that, friends or family members reading through your work for you are vital.
3. Take An Interest
By this, I do not mean "constantly badger us about whether we've got a publishing deal/major interview/1000 sales/RSI in our wrists, yet."
I mean just check in, now and again. "How's your book coming along?" That sort of thing. Or, if talking to a blogger: "What are you writing about at the moment?"
Asking us about the actual creative process of writing - be it a novel, poetry, a blog entry or an article - gives us the chance to talk about it and, sometimes, lets us untangle things in our heads. It's so easy to get carried away, working on something, that sometimes it takes someone asking us about it to make us view it as a reader, rather than a writer, and that can give us a whole new perspective. It's also just nice to know that people are interested in what we're doing. Again, it makes us feel like our writing is important to other people, rather than just to ourselves.
Also, despite the whole "give us space" thing I mentioned earlier, writing can be isolating at times. And whilst we need the time and space to go into our own little bubble of creativity, without being disturbed, we also need to be dragged into reality now and then, too. I know, we're contrary little swines. Sorry about that.
4. Be Honest With Us.
I'm allowed to say that because I am one. #sorrynotsorry
Now, writers can be fragile little things at times. It might not be wise to just casually say that our latest novel is "a massive pile of steaming turds," or anything like that. But, if we've written something and it's not up to the standard you expect from us, or if we pitch an idea to you that you think is ridiculous, it's definitely right to tell us, rather than let us waste our time, carrying on with it. You don't have to shoot us down in flames, but it's really not a great idea to tell someone that their badly written, offensive, self-indulgent rubbish is a literary masterpiece.
Because that's how crap like Fifty Shades of Grey happens.
5. Encourage Us To Follow Our Dreams.
So, you should be honest when we write something terrible, but also encourage us not to give up; told you we were contrary little things, didn't I?!
But, like I said much earlier on in this blog, when we were all younger and full of hope: it's really easy to give up on your writing dreams, especially when you're receiving rejection letters left right and centre, or your self-published novel is still languishing a million miles (or sales) away from Amazon's Bestseller List.
If a person is truly dreadful at writing, maybe it's time to pursue a new dream. The X Factor seems to take pretty much anyone, regardless of talent, or there's always Big Brother.
Seriously though, if someone you know and love has a genuine talent for writing, then do not let them give up on it. They might be writing a blog that they believe hardly anyone ever reads, but that blog could be the one that someone, somewhere, stays up all night, devouring. That book that almost nobody has bought could be the story that changed one person's life. And writing that book, or that blog, could be the one time when the writer feels completely free. Never let them take that away from themselves.
In the words of Whoopi Goldberg in Sister Act:
"If you wake up in the morning and you can think of nothing but writing, first? Then you're supposed to be a writer."
That person's sales don't matter. Whether or not they reach the bestsellers lists doesn't matter. Whether they're reaching an audience of millions with their blog doesn't matter.
What matters is that they love what they do and they never give up on it.
You've read the blog, now read the books!
My debut adult novel: Cracked Mirrors And Torn Reflections
My children's book, suitable for kids aged 5-10: Seven Days With The Cherry Tree Gang