Can We Talk?

I mean really talk, snuggle in a bit closer to the screen because I don’t want everyone to hear this, it’s kinda shameful. I wouldn’t mention it at all but it’s also kinda relevant.

I used to be a ‘perfect proofer’. Typos leapt off the page, grammatical errors made me physically unwell. I’d have to stop reading a book completely if I found more than one mistake, it was just too painful. I ended up proofreading, writing and editing for everyone I knew, it was the only way to survive the agony. I happily made beer money charging a pound a time to write ambulance accident reports for people. My proudest moment was getting Bugsy off a charge of impaling his vehicle on a scaffolding pole, by using big words that the scrambled egg brigade didn’t understand. (He had impaled the ambulance on scaffolding though, I saw him do it.)

Eventually I drifted into copy editing for a living. That was when I decided to have a go at writing, how hard could it be? I was trawling through some terrible stuff and these people called themselves writers.

Guess what? It was easy. I turned my life into a series of humorous articles and people liked them and asked for more. I sent a spot of travelling whimsy to the Rough Guides and they published it! Hey presto, I was a real writer. There were compliments, a reporter friend told me, “Anyone can learn to write but humour takes talent,” and I wore that comment like a medallion. Yeah, some of us have talent.

I’d join the occasional writers’ forum and consider the opinions. Whenever the pros and cons of things like writing courses and support groups cropped up I‘d silently agree with the anti camp. “Writers are born, not made,” I’d scoff internally, while sneering at all the sad little egos who felt the need to waste their time discussing it at all.

Then I got sick. It took months, almost a year, to recover. Except that I didn’t. I’d had a recurrence of the ME that had first hit me twenty years earlier. That time I’d recovered almost completely, with just a tendency to tire easily, an unaccountable horror of cinemas and a tendency to topple over in shopping malls. With this new relapse though, I lost a lot more neurological functions. I couldn’t walk, I couldn’t read and I couldn’t write. I lost my vision when tired and my hearing if assaulted by more than one source of sound. Music was torture and coherent thought was impossible.

I worked hard at remaking the neural pathways that I needed to function, putting one leg in front of the other etc, and several years later I manage ok…although picking my battles has meant that I still can’t abide music or cinemas.

The point of all this is not to elicit sympathy, everyone has crap in their lives, it’s to tell you about a writer who can’t easily read. Or write. I have no sense of patterns now, not even a simple Sudoku, and I can no longer spell. I have gone from being the scoffer to being the struggler and it has been a helpful journey.

My beloved beta readers knew me before. They became fans of my stuff when it came easily and I resolutely still use them. The question is always, “Is it as good as it was?” And they tell me truthfully when my writing feels forced, makes no sense or needs to be started again after a sleep, you know, like a bit of a support group.

Why tell you this? Well, I’m still reading on forums that some writers are better than others. That no-one who needs a course is a real writer; alternatively that no-one who hasn’t come up through the ranks of journalism should be taken seriously because of mere unprofessional talent. I have left all those places where writers contemplate their navels and spend time on one-upmanship. The writing is the thing. If someone likes your work…you changed a little moment of another life. It makes no difference at all how you got there, and whether you just had to Google ‘contemplate’ because you went pattern-blind again and couldn’t see if it was spelled right.

Author: Carolyn Steele

Carolyn writes websites, copy and nonsense about emigrating. She also occasionally ambles off to do something daft in case it’s interesting enough to write about. Her latest book grew from the blog Trucking in English, and you can learn more at her blog and her Amazon author page.

17 thoughts on “Can We Talk?”

  1. Thanks for sharing. Some of us are going through struggles that we don’t reveal. We should never judge someone unless we’ve walked in their shoes! And so good that you have such a great group of Beta Readers – people you trust are invaluable.

    1. Thank you for your comment, I am surprised how many writers are overcoming challenges. Whether we reveal them or not, writing seems to help so many. Being read is, of course, even better.

  2. So right, Carolyn. We all face different challenges. The key is to be aware of and acknowledge what our personal ones are. That gives us the tools to seek the specific support and help we need. Then we can succeed.

  3. I hate it when the Universe reminds me of my hubris. Hang in there, Carolyn.

    If it helps, I found that having a journalism degree and twenty years of writing experience meant doodly squat to agents and literary magazine editors.

      1. I second Lynne’s, “hang in there.” I went through hell last year and learned quite a bit from the support that was offered by virtual strangers. IU is a great place to be. 🙂

  4. “The writing is the thing. If someone likes your work…you changed a little moment of another life”. That is the best thing I’ve read in memory! Thank you!

    1. Thank you for dropping by and commenting, Mandy. This community is so much more supportive than most. But don’t tell the Evil mastermind, he might cut the gruel rations again.

  5. That kind of illness tarnished my perfectionism. I think I’m more compassionate now, maybe even a better editor. Probably a good trade? : )

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