Joanne Phillips

A Writers Journey


being a writer

If You Cut Me, I Will Bleed! Why Authors Are Sensitive Creatures – and Why This Is A Good Thing

So, I released a new book last week. I reached the part in the creative process where my characters and the world I created from my imagination and research hit the virtual shelves of the Amazon bookstore, ready to be enjoyed by readers. And I think at this stage all authors – whether traditionally published or self-published, whether they’ve had massive editorial input or thrashed out all the issues on their own – close their eyes and cross their fingers and hope for the best. You have control over the story; you have no control over what people will say about it. And, as we know, reviewers can be cruel.

Which is their right, apparently, in this era of product review culture, where literary criticism is reduced to the same importance as the build quality of a flat-pack wardrobe or the longevity of a child’s toy. But I’m not here to talk about that today – I’ve done that before on the blog, and it’s not something that interests me much anymore. What I want to share are my thoughts about why and how authors need to be sensitive, and why we should develop this so-called essential thick skin at our peril.


Emotions and conflict and feeling things deeply

Yes, I am sensitive, and possibly I take things to heart to much. As a wife, mother, daughter, sister, friend I am lucky to be surrounded by people who are intelligent and kind and thoughtful of others. As a writer, I have to live and work in the real world, and often the real world is a slightly scary place. There seems to be a movement lately towards cutting remarks being used as humour; towards the clever quip at the expense of others being seen as a sign of wit. Hmm …. I’m unconvinced. Even on my own Facebook Page recently – and bear in mind this is a feed no one needs to see unless they have expressly ‘Liked’ it, and therefore asked to engage with me and my writing – someone made a snide, pointlessly nasty comment about the blurb for A Date With Death. And this is common. This is, presumably, what writers are expected to ‘suck up’ now that we have social media, and have to be accessible and open, and to moan about it, as I’m doing shamelessly here (on my own blog, no less, where I can clearly say whatever the hell I like), is to open up the floodgates of criticism. Which is just plain crazy! Writers need to be sensitive, we need to feel things more deeply than other people, to see the world in technicolour emotions and experience the full force of pain and hurt, along with love and approval. If we don’t, how can we bring these things to the page with any degree of authenticity?

It’s not just reviewers, oh no!

Sometimes the worst offenders are other writers, or other industry professionals. Manners and care seem to have flown out of the window lately. Even in the closed Alliance of Indepentant Authors forum, which is supposed to be populated by professional writers, insults abound, swearing is defended and turned into some kind of debate about ‘creative freedom’ – and I’m talking about proper swearing here, in a context which doesn’t call for it, not the odd word like bloody or shit. When I started my writing journey, the writers I connected with were supportive of each other, not snide and trying put people down or score points off each other by being clever and witty. If you speak up against it you are accused of being precious, and basically laughed at. It’s a shame.

It’s a tough world, for sure

The whole industry is set up to reject and depress authors, let’s face it, but that’s never been a problem before. Writers develop thick skins when it comes to agents and publishers; they learn to master their craft by sifting out useful feedback and criticism. That’s all how it should be. But couldn’t we just try to be a little nicer to each other? Or, at the very least, stop punishing writers for being sensitive. Because if we weren’t a sensitive bunch, we couldn’t write at all. And then where would you be?


We’re all still children inside

My new motto is going to be to remember that we’re all still frightened, sensitive children inside – even those who are the most thoughtless and cruel. Maybe they’re the most frightened. I think of little Jo, above, and about all her hopes and dreams as she grew up, and I wonder what she’d have said at age 7 or so if someone had told her that one day she would knock herself out trying to write engaging, entertaining books for readers to enjoy, and trying to help and support other authors and bloggers, only to find that at least half of the time people are either indifferent or downright rude.

I think she’d have said: Sod that, I’m going to be a politician. That has to be easier, surely … 😉

10 Best Things About Being A Writer

Today I’m lifting the lid on the best things about being a writer. Well, the best things from my perspective, anyway 😉 If you’ve ever dreamed about being a writer you probably have a few ideas about the benefits you’d enjoy. Read on – you might be surprised …

#1 – Fan mail. Oh yes, this jumps right in there at number one – there is nothing quite so lovely as receiving an email or message from a reader who loved one of your books. I hear from readers quite a lot, partly because I make an effort to encourage it, and it’s always such an incredible buzz. These days authors need to be accessible in lots of different ways – email, Twitter, Facebook – so that readers can engage with them in the way that suits the reader best. I always answer messages from readers, and fellow writers of course.

#2 – Revenge. Come on, you’ve never thought about this? The number of people I’ve put in my books so I can carry out some kind of revenge must be in double figures by now. Even though the people who’ve offended or hurt you in some way will probably never know (usually they’re far too obtuse to care anyway), it’s still hugely satisfying to cast someone from your past as an unsavory character, or to kill off a person who wronged you – in your imagination, of course. Not in real life.

#3 – Stationery. Yes, one of the big loves of my life – stationery. I love all of it: notepads, folders, paper, envelopes, paperclips, post-its, those see-through plastic wallets you put in folders. I could spend hours in stationery stores, and becoming a writer finally gave me a good excuse to buy tons of the stuff. (My first job – hairdresser – had to go because it just wasn’t stationery-related enough.)

#4 – Sitting. I am very, very lazy. I can be incredibly industrious, but I can also be astonishingly lazy, expecting other people to wait on me hand and foot, and if I had the choice I would just sit for hours in a comfy chair. And oh! I do have the choice. I’m a writer.

#5 – Working in your PJs. To be honest, I don’t actually work in my PJs – I do tend to get dressed for the school run in the morning. But the point is, I could if I wanted to. Working from home is so wonderful because it really doesn’t matter what you look like. Unless I’m doing a Skype call, I can literally chuck on any old thing and not worry about make-up. Bliss!

I'm currently painting my summerhouse to make a little outdoor office for myself.
I’m currently doing up my summerhouse to make a little outdoor office for myself.

#6 – No colleagues. Linked to the above point, not having to go to a place of work means no colleagues. More bliss! I wouldn’t call myself anti-social (although I am), but I really dislike enforced social contact. And working in most non-home environments calls for chatting and interacting with people you might not feel like interacting with just then. I don’t have to do any of that. It’s wonderful. Does it get lonely? Well, I live in the middle of nowhere so occasionally I do go a bit stir crazy and go out to the big town. Or meet a friend for coffee. But not often.

#7 – Books! I love to be surrounded by books, and have always had a house full of bookcases and shelves. And there really are few things better than holding your own books in your hands. That’s why I’ll always endeavour to have print versions of my books. It’s not really for readers who don’t own Kindles – it’s for me.

A 'shelfie' I took for World Book Day - one of my book shelves with some old favourites.
A ‘shelfie’ I took for World Book Day – one of my book cases with some old favourites.

#8 – Being bossy. Basically, when I’m writing I’m in charge. My characters have to do exactly what I want them to do – it’s such a buzz being in control of the whole world, even if it is just the world of the novel. They are my creations, out of my imagination, and the natural control freak in me just loves being in charge.

#9 – Other writers. An amazing thing happens when you connect with people through your writing – you discover that other writers are lovely too. There is an amazingly supportive community out there (in the main – there are always people who take, take, take without giving, of course, but I try to ignore them), and I count a number of fellow authors among my close friends now. I even meet a couple of them on a regular basis, which considering point #6 proves I really do like them.

With my great friend Lindsay Stanberry-Flynn and Debbie Young. But why do I have balloons coming out of my head?
With my great friend Lindsay Stanberry-Flynn (centre) and the incredibly supportive Debbie Young. But why do I have balloons coming out of my head?

#10 – An active mind. I could have had lots of things for my last in the list – I haven’t mentioned freedom or money, for instance – but I couldn’t finish up without mentioning the wonderful benefits of using your mind in a creative way. As people get older they often take to crosswords or puzzles to keep their minds active. Writing uses your brain in lots of different ways, and older writers tend to be more engaged, more inquisitive, and actually brighter than their non-writing counterparts. So there’s another great reason to take up writing if you don’t already. It’ll help you stay younger.

Feel free to add to my list! What are your best things about being a writer?

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