Making the Transition from Reader to Writer
Those of us who spend a good deal of our time in make-believe worlds slide fluidly in and out of these alternate realities as easily as a fish swims through water. As readers, or job is to bring our willingness to imagine the scene the author is describing, to be open and engaged in the story, and to grant him or her license to create the characters and situations they feel compelled to share with us.
The job of writers is to entertain and enlighten, to share their perspective on any given moral or cosmic challenge, to expand our horizons and our understanding of ourselves and our fellow human beings. No pressure here. Just make it believable, likeable, challenging and satisfying. Blowing our minds is a bonus.
When a story is of otherworldly greatness, it can have the following effects on readers: make them wish with all their hearts they were capable of such an artistic feat, maybe even inspiring them to take that leap, or make them believe they are fundamentally incapable of accomplishing something so bold.
For decades, I fell into the latter camp. I remember marveling over works by writers like Wallace Stegner, Kurt Vonnegut, Isak Dinesen and Annie Proulx, thinking never in a hundred lifetimes would I be able to put words down on paper that were actually worthy of being read by others. Never.
Then something happened that turned my life upside-down. From that altered perspective, I forgot I was incapable of writing. Forgetting my self-imposed limitation was all I needed to do. Without that conviction tying my hands, I set about writing my first novel, incorporating aspects of my own life to keep it real and familiar. What I had when I finished it a year later was proof that I could in fact string sentences together, complete with a beginning, middle, twist, and end. It made my heart sing and my mind explode with possibilities. That same day, I started book two.
Being a well-trained reader, I put my own efforts through the same critical sieve I used when reading books by writers who’d managed to make it through the rigors of publishing and onto bookstores shelves. Thankfully, beating my head until the right word or phrase materialized didn’t dissuade me from going back for more. Obsessing had become a way of life. Even on the worst days of deleting most of what I’d written, it has never occurred to me to give it up. I may never achieve great status as a writer, but for me writing is its own reward, just as reading is. I’ve learned that it’s perfectly acceptable to write for the sake of it; finding like-minded readers is an extra dividend.
We are fortunate to be living in the digital age, for burgeoning writers no longer have to jump through publishing house hoops in order to make their works available for others to read. Thanks to eBooks, self-publishing has completely altered the reading/writing universe.
Unburdened from the publishing caprices and rigors of the past, anyone can become a published author. Talent, more than luck, is now the determining factor to success; if you can write it, you may find there is an audience out there yearning for your work. It’s given a huge segment of would-be writers the realization of a dream: finding a readership to share your unique perspective with.
And if deep-down you want to try writing but don’t feel you can until you learn the basics, the world is now brimming with authors willing to pass on their methods and their hard-won knowledge. Writing has become a community arena the same way reading has. In the end, it’s a reciprocal arrangement. Read, share, write, review. Like love, the more you give, the more you receive. So, don’t let doubt or fear hold you back. Get out there and spread the word(s)!
Cynthia Hamiltons’s titles:
Golden State, High Price to Pay, Finding Ruth, Alligators in the Trees, Once Upon a Lyme, Spouse Trap