To share or not to share?
In any drawn-out labour, there comes the time when you need to ask: ‘How am I doing?’
Writing is not amenable to an annual assessment and review. You can’t ask your boss or your colleagues what they think. So one of the questions I faced after completing that first draft: should I show it to someone and, if so, who?
It was pretty pointless doing that if all I wanted was a pat on the back. I realised that having my ego stroked, while undeniably welcome, wouldn’t help Grosse Fugue be as good as it could possibly be. But if I wasn’t planning to publish, why reveal it? What could it gain?
Well, the truth was simple. I might have started off with noble intentions of purity of purpose, my high artistic ideals never to be sacrificed on Mammon’s altar. But the more I wrote, the clearer became the notion that the world should not be deprived of such breathless brilliance, that I owed it to my fellow humans to share my work. Or, more seriously, that maybe, just maybe, it would no longer be satisfying enough just to write, now I had to be read.
It’s only fair in this sort of confessional to be open and honest. I did harbour huge ambitions for the book. Once it was sitting there, I wanted it to make a difference, to challenge as well as to entertain and move.
Two Russians were banging around in my head. Myakovsky remarked that “Art is not a mirror to reflect the world, but a hammer with which to shape it.” Perhaps more appositely, Zamyatin said this: “There are books of the same chemical composition as dynamite. The only difference is that a piece of dynamite explodes once, whereas a book explodes a thousand times.”
Well, I wanted my novel to explode a thousand and more times.
I had decided to postpone the sharing thing until I’d completed a first draft. Then I started talking to people and, if they seemed genuinely interested, I’d give them a print-out to read.
And then I waited for a response.
I don’t recommend this approach. Silence can only be interpreted as judgement-by-cowardice. Some commented constructively, others were enthusiastic. But I lost count of the number of people who said bugger all. This was hideous.
So, in the end, I decided to see how literary agents would respond. That was fun.
Ian Phillips is a freelance writer for businesses whose first novel, Grosse Fugue, will be published by Alliance Publishing Press on April 3rd. He’s tweeting developments @Ian_at_theWord.