Carrying on momentarily with the Superhero analogy from my earlier post (The Pen Name – A Shield to accompany the Literary Sword?) … how many superheroes really ever worked alone? Even the famous ‘singletons’ were all part of the Justice League!
Being a writer is a lonely profession. Unless you are one of the lucky few to work in television or film, the chances are that most of your ‘working’ hours are spent alone. And yet, in my opinion, to write good fiction, you can’t be a loner! You need to understand people! You need to understand their relationships, and their dialogue … and those aren’t things you can properly grasp if your only relationships are with your computer screen and your characters!
And so your friends and family are extremely valuable. Not only are they your general support network, but they will undoubtedly be a source of inspiration, no matter how loosely you base your plots and characters on your own real life.
But friends and family also provide a very vital role in the writing process. Because most of the time, they will be the first people to read your work.
In my post ‘So am I an Author yet?!‘ I explained how my personal defining moment as an ‘author’ was realising that I had a dedicated reader in my agent, Lucy Dundas of Peters, Fraser & Dunlop. However, the more I think about it, the more I sold short some of my friends with that post. Even before that post was Freshly Pressed, I had a readership of more than one. In fact, over the past two years, without realising, I had cultivated a veritable A-Team of readers. A mixed bag of close friends, whose contributions, talents and personalities have spanned the whole range of attributes required in the ideal sidekick. In the ideal reader!
The Action Man
My very dear friend Eric is a Hollywood producer. His area of expertise is action. He sees my books in 3D, translating them into movies in his imagination, and then identifying the gaps that lie within the texts. If you ever read one of my stories, and come across a kick-ass fight, or a heart-stopping high action moment, then the chances are that Eric suggested it. Whereas I see my books as a series of chapters, Eric approaches each book as a whole, and it is this difference of vision which benefits my writing so greatly.
The Mirror Image
My best friend Mel is like a blonde version of me. Of course we have our differences, but where stories are concerned, we were made by the same mould. We read the same books, watch the same TV shows, and cry at the same points in movies. In terms of literary criticism, these similarities are not without their drawbacks. Mel loves everything that I love, and it is rare that her criticism is anything other than positive. However, for that very reason, she is the perfect addition to my team of reading sidekicks. Mel picks me up when I’m down. No matter how dubious or unfinished my writing, Mel is there at the sidelines rallying me on. My own personal cheerleader. And in the absence of a mother, she’s exactly what I need. Someone who believes in me, and in my writing, and who will encourage me on those days when writer’s block, or the self-doubt that comes with still being unpublished, get me down.
My other best friend, Ibs, is my polar opposite. He reads different books, ridicules everything I watch on TV, and wouldn’t be caught dead seeing any of the movies that I’d pay good money to see! He is the antithesis of my target audience. I write predominantly for teenage girls, and Ibs is about the blokiest bloke you can get. He loves football and beer and rolls his eyes if anyone so much as mentions the word vampire! But these are all qualities which I need in a reader. Not ALL my readers, obviously. But definitely in at least one! Because Ibs adds something else to my books. When I forward a chapter to Ibs, I prepare myself for a stream of sardonic responses. He will call me out on anything and everything … and because of it, my novels are far more streamlined, and far less … gushy! Ibs sees the world from a very different angle – a very masculine one. And particularly where scenes with male characters are involved, this is a great asset. On several occasions he has (very sarcastically) pulled me up on not getting the tone of a boy-on-boy conversation quite right. ‘Guys don’t talk like that!’ he will tell me. And as long as I ask the obvious, ‘Ok, how do they talk?’ and listen to his response, then my writing will benefit from his input.
The One in the Know
And finally, that brings me to Lucy. The perfect ‘new’ addition to the team. When my representation dramas finally settled, and I found myself with a bona fide, invested agent, I gained an extra member of my team of reading sidekicks. I gained someone with insider information. Someone who knew this minefield of an industry which I am trying to establish myself in, and who was able to offer me criticism, and suggest changes, which reflected the needs and trends of that industry. Now, obviously as a writer, getting an agent is a huge hurdle, and one which I will talk about in later posts. It is a great asset to have ‘The One in the Know’ on your team, but even if you don’t yet, that doesn’t mean you, or one of your dedicated followers can’t step in and play at least part of that role. Publishing isn’t a secret society. It’s an industry literally built on communication. And so (most) of the answers are out there. It’s simply a question of finding them! If you haven’t yet secured an agent, that’s no excuse not to know the market you are targeting. READ! Read books in your genre, read blogs, read Twitter, read websites. The internet is bursting with people trying to give you information. You simply need to search them out, and adjust your writing accordingly.
And that brings me to my final point. You will only be ‘The Writer and Her (or His) Sidekicks’ if you LISTEN! It’s all well and good forming your perfect support team, but if you don’t want to listen to the things they have to say, then you may as well be going at this all on your own. It can be hard to modify something which is so inherently close to your heart, but trust me, you will reap the benefits if you swallow your pride, and yield to at least some of their suggestions!