I was totally awestruck when I met romantic novelist Rowan Coleman at a literary event two years ago. I’m a huge fan of her wonderful books. (She was really lovely and modest too – most bestselling writers are) There’s quite a lot of Rowan fans about, it would appear, given her novels are frequently in the Top 10 fiction charts and she has thousands of Twitter followers.
I can only dream of having a following like Rowan’s but I have two huge fans: my mother and my husband who automatically love everything I write, plus a whole gaggle of friends who loyally support my writing dreams. A support network is vital for those many hours (days, months) of self-doubt, dry spells, bad feedback or reviews, writer’s block et cetera, but for me the real validation comes from complete strangers. Strangers have no emotional investment in your work and the general public is a very harsh critic. In modern society we constantly judge. So to win a stranger’s approval is the highest form of praise indeed.
For the fledgling writer it is so thrilling to have someone tell you they enjoyed your book, column or article. A cousin I hadn’t seen for years, a friend’s sister-in-law at a 40th party and a colleague’s wife recently enthused about my ebook and I was delighted to have their feedback. But just last week a complete stranger approached me and said how much she loved my column: although I was incognito at a writers’ event she had recognised me from my tiny photo in the paper. (Quite a feat when you consider that I am wearing dark glasses and I write under my rarely used married name lest I offend anyone and attract an angry twitchfork mob). This was another great milestone for me in my writing career. Although I bet this happens to the mighty Grace Dent all the time, even she had to start somewhere.
The same with Twitter and blog followers: they are following because they have chosen to and that is an achievement in a world with so much information overload and where most of us have so little free time.
So what are the other milestones in my writing timeline thus far? I suppose for me the defining moments are: winning a short story competition aged 13; gaining my journalism degree (unused until my late thirties); joining a writers’ group; having my first work published; my first blog; publishing my ebook; getting a phone call one winter’s morning from the editor of a woman’s magazine asking if they could use one of my short stories; writing my column; being chosen to write for a travel anthology; and this year being asked to contribute to a popular website. Along the way there are smaller triumphs such as building my writer platform, encouragement from some really fabulous (and famous) friends and fellow writers, and seeing my name in print time and again, which never loses its thrill. (As does a royalty or payment cheque plopping through the letterbox although for now, I’d starve if it wasn’t for my day job). For me, it is my ambition to always be able to walk into WHSmith and know that my work is somewhere in there. So far this year I’ve nearly achieved that.
Next I’d like a three book deal with a hefty advance, but one can dream. And that’s what we writers deal in: dreams.