I like my reading group, and I like the people in it.
I haven’t been going for long, six months or so, but, already, I look forward to our monthly meetings, and I look forward to seeing the other members and hearing what they have to say.
We are a mixed group. We are more women than men, which, I gather, is common, and more middle-aged than young, (so no young men, obviously), but, nevertheless, mixed, and I like to think that we are various and lively and pretty bright.
I didn’t volunteer the information that I had ever written anything, but I guessed that at least some of us must harbour ambitions to be writers, since lots of readers do, and I was right, because one of us is studying for a degree in creative writing (heaven forbid she should ever read my thoughts on the subject). In the end, I was outed by another member of the group, a man whom I think of as a ‘senior member’, or even ‘THE senior member’ of the group. He obviously googles people. Good for him. It wasn’t difficult to deflect, since the husband is much more interesting on that front than I am.
In the context of the short stories that we were reading this month, and in the interests of sharing, as other members were, I offered to disseminate a bit of flash fiction of my own, something that was freely available and in the public domain.
“Oh no,” said one woman, slightly horrified. “That would be awful! I like you, and I’d hate it if you’d poured your heart and soul into something that I didn’t think was any good. What would I say?”
I like her too, and I very much like that she cared.
Perhaps I have become terribly thick-skinned, perhaps a writer has to; I don’t know, but it never crossed my mind that I would have any problem taking criticism from these lovely people. I get paid to write. It’s my job. Why should my heart be broken or my confidence skewered if any reader should happen not to like what I’ve done?
It isn’t that I don’t pour my heart and soul into what I do, but writing for a living is both more and less than that. Yes, I have to open a vein, but I have to do it all the time, and I’ve become an expert at closing a wound and healing in anticipation of the next. I open a vein in sterile surroundings, in hospital conditions; I don’t just take a rusty razor blade to an artery in a dark, dirty alleyway somewhere.
There is time, too; there is time, rounds of editing and proofing and then more time; there is a flurry of reviews and possibly signings and then yet more time passes. By the time real readers are talking to a writer face to face about a story, it’s generally months or even years since it was written.
It’s worth remembering that I’m not paid in glory, I’m paid in cash.
What’s more, most readers, face to face, are kind and sweet and lovely. Most readers are rather impressed to meet a real life, published writer at all, under any circumstances, and it generally isn’t their default position to be snarky. Most people, in my experience, do what I try to do, which is to say that if they can’t say something nice, they don’t say anything at all. The worst thing anyone standing in front of me, across a signing table has ever done to me is open their eyes wide and point and say, “You’re a girl!” He was all of twelve years old and red-faced and cherubic, and so easy to forgive.
People say all sorts of things, but no one has ever looked me in the eye and told me that I’m rubbish.
That’s what the forums and chatrooms on the internet are for... surely.
Cathy, if you’re reading this, there’s a little list of flash fiction on the right hand side of the page. I’ll never know if you’ve read any of it, unless you tell me, so fill your boots.