Category: On Writing

Branding iron in a coal fire

Writing Anxieties: This Idea of Branding

Branding iron in a coal fire
Branding – a bit extreme for this writer?

Sorry to disappoint any of the folks who are looking at the title and thinking I’m going to be discussing branding as a kink. No, I’m going to be looking at this idea of the author brand.

The idea of having a ‘brand’ is an oft-discussed topic online – particularly in reference to the blogging world, and no where more so these days with more and more writers joining the internet to self-promote, because that’s the way it’s all going these days, isn’t it? The basic idea is that you have something distinct to market your writing, something that you can pinpoint to to find the essential kernel of what makes it your work.

For me, I’ve always been a fraction resistant to this, and a little suspicious. One, marketing still feels a little strange for me (the tension between doing it to reach people and doing it for financial gain bodes uneasily). Two, and perhaps more importantly for me, I really had no clue what my author brand is or feels like. (Note, I think I have a bit more of a clue now.)
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Writing Anxieties: Oh crap, it’s an actual block

This past weekend I had hoped to write. Truly. I had hours to spare, and the story idea I wanted to focus on. The thoughts of that story turned like wheels in my mind.

But it didn’t happen.

I was blocked. Which, even though there are days where I avoid writing like the plague, was a very strange feeling. It was like the very idea of me opening up a word doc or a text file or anything to just start writing was just. un. bearable.
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Writing Anxieties: Remembering Why You Do This

Why do I write?

I haven’t asked myself that question for a little while now. Or, more to the point, given it serious thought. If you were to ask me directly, I might say something like:

“Because I have to.”
“Because it’s a compulsion I can’t shake.”
“Because the alternative is unthinkable.”

Pretty dramatic answers, when put down on the page like that. But true. So very, very true.

The trouble is, lately, I’ve been forgetting that reason when I approach my writing.
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Writing Anxieties: The Fear of the Bookstore

A regular reader of Writing Anxieties asked if I would talk about the fact that there are just too many books to read. I will. But not today. 😉 Instead, I’d like to focus on a related issue, one a bit more pertinent to the fears of a writer. And that is the over-crowded market.

For me, it’s why I don’t like going into a book store, or these days, browsing titles online at places like Amazon (the same applies to libraries and second-hand stalls at markets). For right in front of you is the constant reminder of all the other people out there who a) have had something published, b) are trying to make it too, and c) are vying for the same attention as you are.

Well, not always the same attention. I can’t say I’ll ever be in competition with the writers of flower manuals and books on deep-sea fishing. Even in fiction, I’m not really in competition with the likes of Jane Austen or Charles Dickens, or the other classics that have been around for years (me and Homer have no quarrel… or comparison. Anyway…). Children’s picture books, religious texts, tracts on thermodynamics are, likewise, no cause for concern. There are whole shelves of the store, in real life and virtual, that I can safely browse without the slightest anxiety bubbling up in me.

That leaves the rest of them. The popular fiction writers, the literary fiction writers, the other erotic writers, the speculative, the mystery… each of these I look at think ‘well… shit.’

There are a couple of things going on. One, the gnawing feeling of ‘why aren’t I there yet?’ Two, the overwhelming sense that there are so. many. names. that you just haven’t heard of, and the fear is that ‘well, even if I make it to publication, what if I become one of those names? And ‘also ran’, the one that maybe a handful of people read but is just not, well, read all that much?’ (To my mind, at least – one might hazard that these writers must have readers in order to have more than one novel out.)

I suppose there are a couple of tricks to this. Learning to be happy for the success of others, perhaps – but I think I’ll save my generousity for those I know personally, rather than Jane Doe, writer who I’ve never heard of but dang namit, has gone and managed to get herself out there. Another way of thinking about it is that it takes some of the awe and mystery out of publishing, that it turns out, rather than being something only a veeerryyy special select few can do, there are more people at this game than you might realise – so if they can do it, so can I.

In terms of getting the attention of a J.K. Rowling or a Stephen King (or in erotica, an E.L. James)… not sure with that one. On the one hand, having a name with that kind of impact would be awesome, but I’m slowly getting drawn to the appeal of not having that kind of following. Of having my name know by a few people, enough to keep me writing, enough people who appreciate it, and that’s it.

Of course this is all pie-in-the-sky stuff – need to actually get a novel, you know, finished, before any of this becomes relevant. But it is the kind of thing that can threaten to overwhelm a writer, and worth watching out for so it doesn’t ruin what should be pleasant experience, that of browsing and looking at and enjoying books.

Writing Anxieties: Will Anyone Read This?

When I say ‘this’, I don’t mean this post in particular. It seems I have at least a few readers for Writing Anxieties; I was delighted, and surprised, by the number of likes and reblogs the cross-post of last week’s entry got on Tumblr, and the productivity post generated some great discussion its GoodReads cross-post.

What I am referring to is the general question that, even if you finish a piece you are working on – be that a short story, a novel, a poem, a blog post, a script – one that you love dearly, or even just have a passing fondness for, will you have readers for it? Will people, after you unleash it onto the world – however that may be – take the time sit down and read it?

Without a reader, a writer can feel very bereft. It’s like shouting into a tunnel and only hearing your own voice back. There is something gratifying about hearing the amplification of your words, but the same sound repeated back, over and over, get a little dull, and kind of lonely.

I noticed this from the very first publication. When Filament came out, I held the hard copy in my hands, saw my name in print, and smiled…and silence followed. Granted, I’m not sure if that piece is the best thing I’ve ever written, so I doubt it would compel someone to seek me out for feedback and praise because they loved it so (or hated it – see my post from two weeks, but it was interesting to realise how much I had gotten used to near-instantaneous feedback from my days in fandom.

It was easier to get a sense of readership when I was still doing fanfiction on a regular basis. You post something, and very quickly, you had feedback. What I love about Archive of Our Own is that you see the hit counts for your work, and also, if people don’t want to leave a comment, they can leave ‘kudos’. It’s the closest approximation of a ‘like’ button you can get. That’s the thing I really adore about the like buttons. It’s the internet equivalent of the non-verbal signals you get in real life conversation; the nod, the understanding expression, the smile (or the applause). Because online, no one can see you smiling, or hear you laughing, if you don’t make it known that you are. Sometimes this can be hard to do because of that wonderful shield of anonymity the internet gives you is broken a little when you do that. But it’s also a nifty way of participating without the fears of putting down your thoughts for all to see.

But I digress.

These days, and from here on in, I suspect I’m going to have to prod people into giving me a response for my work (and lest anyone is sitting there thinking this post is intended to guilt-trip them into leaving feedback, that’s not my intention. I understand if you’d rather not or don’t know what to say or are unsure of how to say it, that’s totally fine). The trouble is, there is that fear I might be putting them on the spot. What if they don’t like it and are just being polite when they smile and hand it back to you? What if they aren’t shy about saying they think it was shit and give you a point by point breakdown of why they think it was crap? (Granted, this latter part isn’t a bad thing all the time and would in fact show they cared enough about the piece to have such a strong reaction, but hard to take at the same time). In my case, it’s that I write erotica, and not a lot of people I know in real life are that keen to read erotica (or as far as I know…feel free to disabuse me of that notion folks!) so I don’t really want to be flapping work under their noses that will either make them feel uncomfortable or just plain doesn’t interest them.

In a way, it’s easier with strangers. Or indeed the internet. With erotica, I know the circles I can go and post something in and probably get some response from it, be it criticism or praise. With the blog, I can at least register that people are reading along; I just pop over to Google Analytics and see the hit counts for the day (and yes dearies, there is a correlation between blogging consistently and site visits – who knew! 😉 ) And people have been reading along, and commenting, and taking interest, and that is very assuring to know. I may worry that hordes of people won’t read this, but I figure if I don’t write it, no body ever will. So thank you folks. It’s nice knowing that you’re there. 🙂