Many years ago, on the first day of my Creative Writing MA at Chichester Uni, our tutor, the wonderful Stephanie Norgate, welcomed us as writers – the first time anyone had called me that – and said, ‘You’re all here because you want to be heard.’
I’ve thought about that many times since. Is being heard my only motivation, and if so, who do I hope is listening? I’m lucky enough to share my work with a writing friend, who reads my early drafts. I often imagine her reaction when I knock out a clumsy sentence, or – worst of all – dump a load of information, instead of working harder and showing it. And getting her constructive feedback is priceless.
But who else am I writing for? I never had an imaginary friend as a child and I don’t have an imaginary reader. When writing’s going well I’m not thinking of how it will be received – I’m trying to hear the characters’ voices, and get their experiences down on the page as quickly as I can before it disappears. When it’s going badly, I’m well aware of who’s listening – the critic on my shoulder, the voice in my ear that says it’s no good, it’ll never be any good, why not just give up? I’ve heard other writers say that they write for no one – they write for themselves, and the thought of anyone reading it is too terrifying to contemplate.
But ultimately most of us want to be heard – or read. And we all crave feedback; otherwise, as a writer friend said to me, writing can feel like ‘shouting into a cupboard’. The original joy of story-telling must have been just that – to look up from your tale and see a circle of spellbound faces illuminated by the glow of the fire.
While poetry readings are a familiar fixture on the writing scene, it’s harder for fiction writers to find an audience. Recently I listened to some amazing writers read their stories, at a Rattle Tales event at the Brighton Fringe. You can find my review here.
Writers read their work, and the audience members responded with applause – and questions. What gripped me when I was listening to the pieces read aloud was how the story tellers drew us into their worlds: how visual the process was. A concrete image, a clear phrase, made the story come alive. And between the reader and the audience a whole world was created – living, breathing characters appeared before us.
What else could it be but magic? And it made me remember: stories are for telling, not for keeping to ourselves. So keep going – and don’t forget to share.