Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Writing for an invisible audience

I sent congrats to a writer friend this morning about an award she had won. Her success made me think of how writers so often wonder if anyone is out there, paying attention to what we do. We put our heart and soul into every keystroke. Then when it's not going well or the words just won't come or we get another rejection, we wonder if there is any point in continuing.

Thomas Hardy wrote after a particularly scathing review of Tess of the D'urbervilles, "If this continues, no more writing for me. A man must be a fool to stand and be shot at."

I know how poor Tom felt, on a much smaller scale of course. Even before the bad reviews come--and they will come--we feel shot at nearly every time we sit down to write. Or when we browse bookshelves and compare our writing to that of those who consistently sell hundreds of thousands of copies every year. Or when we receive yet another rejection.

This business is not for the faint of heart. It can be discouraging on the best of days. Even after we begin selling consistently we never fully know how many readers are out there, how many responded to the message we fought to achieve in our books, or if anyone will remember our story once the book is closed.

Yet we continue to expose ourselves to the disappointment, the rejection, the fear. To be shot at. We are writers and we cannot still the voices in our heads any other way but by bleeding the words onto the page day after day. Our first goal in everything we do should be to please God through the individual gifts he's given us. But crafting an excellent story, striving for each sentence to be better than the last, is what we do to legitimately call ourselves writers.

Awards and accolades are nice. Great reviews and letters from satisfied readers make our day. But we must write to satisfy that mysterious part deep inside of us that knows when it's going well and accepts when it isn't. Don't stop, even when it hurts. Even when no one is reading. Even when no one gets you. Write. Grow in the craft.

As in life, accept your awards when they come and keep striving for perfection.