So I submitted a story recently to a new magazine at my university. My chances are good – better than I’ve ever had, anyway – because instead of submitting my story to a huge magazine that gets 50 stories a day, I’ve submitted it to a small start-up that has, as far as I know, received fewer than 30 in total. It’s also limited only to writers at my university, so, again, better chances. Good stuff.
But if my story is chosen, I’m expected to do a reading at the launch party. And this got me thinking.
First of all, the idea absolutely terrifies me. But it also occurred to me that the very idea of doing a reading is anathema to the popular image of the writer that is so often thrust on us. The stereotypical writer is not a centre-stage actor. They are slightly awkward, they like coffee and cats, and they spend too much of their time watching other people, essentially watching life from the sidelines. It’s a cosy little image. It’s almost like it’s set up to draw idealistic, bright-eyed novices into the craft before they slam them with the truth (I’m exaggerating.)
You only have to read through George R R Martin’s blog to see my point. Martin is one of the most popular writers in the world at the moment, if not the most popular, and you can see how this impacts his life. Progress on his new book has slowed to a crawl because he’s expected to appear at so many writing conventions, book tours, and speeches.
The point I’m getting at is to be a writer, as well as being the quiet, poised spectator in the corner of the coffee shop with ink pen in hand and leatherbound notebook open, you must also be able to perform, to entertain, to step up from the sidelines and become the star player, if only for a little while. And it’s true for all writers. The colossal Gaimans and Martins share the stage with the small ones, the amateur poets, the English teachers who write on their spare time. And, yes, the quivering students.
If I want to be a professional writer, I need to be able to do this. I know that. At the same time, some part of me tell me that my writing will carry me through. That I can just bury my head in the sand, refuse to do readings, stay at my computer, and just keep writing.
But I know in my heart that if I want to make a success of this, I need to learn how to perform. And the possibility that I might be doing this in a month or two has hit that home for me. As with everything, the real life of the writer is nothing like the popular, romantic version.
Time to start watching some Youtube videos.