I recently finished reading entries about the writing life from Virginia Woolf's diary. Her husband, Leonard Woolf, published these extracts called "A Writer's Diary" - to give the glimpse of the writer, as oppose to her whole life which her complete diaries include.
It was fascinating, and I think it held more than a few lessons for new writers. To save you the reading (though I highly recommend it), I will share a few things that left a deep impression in my mind.
Virginia Woolf was always affected by the reviews. With every book, she told herself she didn't care. She had heard it all, and she was going to keep being an individual. Yet, when the reviews came, they always affected her, and negative reviews had more affect on her than positive ones.
consider how badly negative reviews are going to impact you. Yes, you can't know for sure until it happens to you, but you can guess. How do you handle criticism in life? How do you feel when people don't like you, or say horrible things about you, or call you an idiot? Okay, so maybe no one calls you an idiot, but what if someone did?
Try writing a really horrible review of your book. Now write a fantastic review of your book. If you have time, write several of each. Put them all away together in an envelope. A month or two later, read them. How do you feel? Which ones affect you the most? This is something to keep in mind for later. There are quite a few authors who never read reviews. You might want to be one of them.
Virginia Woolf wrote her book in long hand. Then typed it all up. Then she revised it. Typed it all up. She also sent chapters to friends, and her husband read them all - I am not sure how many typings went in there, but as you can imagine, it was much harder than our computer days.
Rewrites are what shapes words into a story. Perhaps you are the kind of writer who spends tons of time making the first draft as close to perfect as possible - then your first draft is full of rewrites as you search for the perfect word or phrase. But for many of us, who write the first draft in a creative frenzy and then edit and revise, it doesn't mean we aren't any good. It means that a good story comes out of a collaboration of both right and left brain. Creativity and reason combined. Creativity comes in a frenzy, but we need to reason with calm and collectedness. So don't let the rewrites get you down.
James Scott Bell described it best. He said, think of editing as the chance to take a final exam over and over again, and each time you get a better grade. Now if I had that chance in school or college, I would have loved that.
Be True to Yourself
Despite her depression with reviews, despite her attempts to prove that she was no worse than any male novelist, and not limited to women's fiction, Virginia Woolf kept writing the stories she wanted to write. She wrote some things for money like reviews and articles, but her books - her stories - came from her. Despite her fear of them being failure to appeal to the public, she wrote stories for a purpose - to explore her own mind, to explore a technique, to try a new technique, to challenge herself.
Commercial books are perfectly good. And if we are planning to write full time, it is only right and reasonable to want to make a decent living from it. But strive for success while staying true to yourself. You can either be successful because you conform to generic standards, or you can be successful because you create stories that are so uniquely your own and so appealing to the public that they embrace them. Which one would you rather have?