I am at the point in my writing career now, where I finally know how I feel about everything.
In the last two years, I’ve had five books published. For a year and about nine months of that time, I’ve thrown around the following qualifiers when someone says ‘oh, you’re a writer?'”
‘Yeah, but I only write chick-lit. Nothing important.’
‘Yeah, but, you know, it’s nothing special. Just stuff for me.’
‘It’s not serious work or anything.’
‘It’s not literature that’s going to change the world or anything. It’s silly, really.’
What’s changed about the last couple of months? Well, nothing. I still say that, except I wince and tell myself to shut up afterwards. But what I’ve realised, both through the bad times (painfully personal bad reviews) and the good times (a surprisingly bountiful royalties cheque) is that what I’m doing has worth, because I do it for me.
Am I incredibly lucky that people like my books? Yes. Do I love that I have ‘fans’ or readers who get what I’m trying to do? My goodness, yes! But the only way I can sleep at the end of the day, knowing that my stories are out in the world, being digested, judged and possibly criticised, is to know I did it for me. I wrote something I enjoyed writing, enjoyed editing and reading back.
I am an incredibly fussy chick lit reader, I always have been. There are lots of storylines I don’t like, characters I can’t get behind. I don’t like dreamy, fluffy lit. I don’t like anything that involves cheating. I’m not a massive fan of the ‘falling in love with the best friend after a bazillion years’ (although I can occasionally be persuaded).
So I write what I like to read, stuff that’s sarcastic, cynical, argumentative. Where everyone comes up with witty one-liners immediately (instead of three weeks later, like I do), and people go after what they want because they deserve it.
So why do I tell people that my work has no meaning? Would I have written five books if it meant nothing to me? No. Obviously not. I tell people it’s worthless so I can get in there first, before the inevitable questions of ‘well, when are you going to write real books?’ or ‘aren’t you a bit embarrassed to be writing that stuff?’ (Yes, I have had both these questions.)
Here’s what I’ve learnt: You can’t please everyone. I recently saw a review where someone couldn’t bear to finish my book because it wasn’t fluffy and romantic enough, and you know what I thought? Thank goodness. Because I hate that style. Being a writer is the same as being a reader- it’s a matter of taste. It wasn’t someone picking apart where I put the commas, it was someone going ‘you know what, this isn’t my sort of thing.’
There are people who put bad reviews on my favourite authors, people I consider to be masters. We made E.L James a millionaire! There’s no accounting for taste, or style, or talent. The only thing we can do is write things we want to write, things we want to read, things we can be proud of.
And that’s the biggest, most painful part: to put this poor, defenceless novel out in the world and with a small, quiet voice say I am proud of this.
Speaking of which, my latest novel If You Don’t Know Me By Now, is available now on Amazon.