AFTER dabbling on and off ever since I could articulate words, in mid-2009 I started writing full time and haven’t stopped.
Working through plenty of strong emotions (and day jobs), I blasted through my blocks to self-expression and found my voice in fiction, plays, journalism and memoir – genres I had tried but given up hope on long ago.
Along the way I’ve collected a little wisdom about how the world reacts to what writers write.
It’s not always pretty – there are plenty of detractors out there waiting at their keyboards to knock writers into silence.
Writers are generally very observant beings – our art reveals an ability to dig deep inside and tell the stories we find. The easier we make it look, the more it drives people who have trouble expressing themselves into fits of jealousy.
So, ‘you’re wrong about that, you know’, is a very common response to the courage it takes to write.
You’ll get it at social gatherings, on the social media, and sometimes from friends.
But one person you’ll very, very rarely hear it from is another prolific writer. We know the hard slog that goes into the job.
Here are my tips to writing ‘wrong’ …
Use the criticism
After your first few ‘you’re wrong’ experiences, you may find yourself getting a bit upset at someone making a point of being negative. A good way to remedy the shock is to write about it. That’s exactly what I am doing right here, right now. Never go silent for fear of someone deciding you’re wrong. Just keep writing.
Check your sources
Then check them again. This is not just the job of the journalist. Often, an accusation of ‘wrong’ comes from a readers’ need to highlight an inaccuracy, sometimes very publicly. But you’ll be surprised how often you go back to your research material only to find you were more correct than you originally realised. ‘Wrong’ is an easy accusation to make, but it’s harder to wear with confidence in mixed company unless you’ve gone over your sources properly.
Online publishing allows instantaneous correction of just about anything. If you’ve made an error, from a typo to a mistaken claim, correct it! Across the heavily political history of publishing, this ability is an incredible luxury that a writer could argue people lost their lives for. Use it.
Many have invested time and money into becoming experts in certain fields, and they sometimes feel they have cornered the subject against every other writer. Expect little support from such people – they’ll get upset and angry if you write on ‘their’ subject, or close-up altogether. Explain your use of their source material, sure, but never be afraid to add to the story without their approval or permission. They’ll tell you you’re ‘wrong’, of course, but you’re getting used to that now, right?
Old fashioned knockers
There are few things more hurtful for writers who use the social media than the throwaway dismissal or casual drubbing from one of our ‘peeps’. Facebook has become a tender trap for their ‘friendly’ fire. Knockers are the hardest critics to recognise, because their message can be slow to dawn on us if delivered in a sustained manner over a long period of time. Deleting a few of their condescending, corrective comments is usually all it takes to deliver firm return fire about their lack of form.
The right of reply
Pieces I’ve written have attracted polar feedback. The same works have been called ‘uplifting’ and ‘undisciplined’; ‘powerful’ and ‘hurtful’; ‘insightful’ and ‘misguided’. I try not to soak up either praise or criticism, which is easy to say and hard to put into action. In the fine balance between listening to a reader’s feelings and honouring my own, I tend to listen to myself, because to assimilate the opposites in my readership might end in this writer silencing himself, and I stayed silent for long enough.
If all else fails …
What I am still learning is how to adopt that iron-clad ego it takes to put my work into the public domain, and leave it there despite the wall of wrong. But I am developing a suspicion that all a good writer needs is the brio of a damned good judge. Objection? Overruled!
An extract from Write, Regardless!
© Michael Burge, all rights reserved.