Is the Internet a Good Place for Aspiring Writers?

I had several topics I wanted to talk about today, but then I checked in with my discussion group on Facebook where they were talking about aspiring writers attacking other aspiring writers, and now that topic is the one foremost on my mind.

I never encountered attacks when I was learning to write because I didn’t get on the internet or meet other authors until I was already an accomplished writer. In the beginning, it was just me, pencils and paper, and an idea. (I didn’t even have a typewriter, let alone a computer.) Later, it was just me, pencils and paper, an idea, and a steady stream of books about writing — hundreds of them. Writing coaches often remark that you learn about writing by writing, but it takes a lot of writing (some say 10,000 hours, some say 1,000,000 words) to become adept at the craft. I thought that by studying how to write I could hurry things along so I could start making money from my books. (Hard to believe I was ever that naïve — the money part, that is. Learning to write was the right thing to do.)

I’ve hidden my first novel so I don’t come upon it by accident — it’s that bad. Of course, while writing it, I thought it sounded wonderful. Words added up to sentences, sentences added up to paragraphs, paragraphs added up to . . . well, you get the picture. Later, when I learned to write, I saw the horror of it. To this day, no one has read any of that draft, and no one ever will until I rewrite it. And re-rewrite. And edit. And re-edit. And copyedit. (I still like the premise, so it’s on my exceedingly short list of ideas for books.) I can’t imagine what sort of horrendous attack posting any part of that book online would have garnered, but as much as the attacks would have hurt, they would have been deserved, though I would not have known that.

One of the first things I did after getting the internet and learning my way around was to start this blog. (On September 24, this blog will celebrate its fifth anniversary. That day will also mark 365 days of daily blogging and my 1000th post +2. Any suggestions for a gala celebration?)

A couple of weeks after beginning to blog, I entered a writing contest where people left comments on the first chapter of a novel. By asking some people to vote, I enraged them since they considered such messages spam, and they retaliated with some of the most scathing commentary I’ve ever encountered. After those comments — and the 200 rejections I received before I found a publisher who loved my work — I became inured to attack.

The disparaging remarks never cease. Once my books were published, I got a few low ratings from other writers who thought (foolishly) that by giving me single stars it will make their ratings look better. I also got bad reviews (or at least mediocre ones) from people who simply didn’t understand the books, mistook the genre, or realized too late the books were outside their comfort zone.

I spent years on my books — perfecting the craft, rewriting and editing, following the suggestions of my editors to make them even better. They are the exact stories I wanted to write with the exact words I wanted to use. If people don’t like my books, that is their prerogative, and they are welcome to say so, but I’m not changing a single word to reflect the tastes of the few who dislike or who misunderstand my books. The way I see it, reviews are for other readers, not me — I already know what the books are about.

Most readers say nice things about my books, and most of the reviews are wonderful. Many of the reviews seem to have been written by my friends, but generally it worked the other way around. I became friends with my reviewers. How could I not? They have such great taste!

The internet is a great tool for writers, but I wonder if it hinders just as much as it helps. If I had put myself out there too soon, I’d have taken attacks personally, and maybe followed a different path with my writing. By waiting to put myself out there after I’d become an accomplished writer, it didn’t matter so much what anyone said. I knew the truth.

13 Responses to “Is the Internet a Good Place for Aspiring Writers?”

  1. Emma McCoy Says:

    You have such a great attitude. I have yet to experience some of the attacks you spoke of but I expect them at any time. I think it is sad that people focus more on the competition than on the craft itself. It is my hope that people will provide constructive criticism of my work along with encouragement. Great post.

    • Pat Bertram Says:

      Thank you. Maybe the reason I have a great attitude is I was far enough along in my writing that I didn’t really care what people thought. I want people to buy my books, of course, but nothing anyone says will make me change one word of any of those books.

  2. Angel Brookins Says:

    I think that anyone that belittles another person online just because they can’t be seen is just a jerk. You can give good and helpful critique, help a budding writer to flourish mightily, without ever being hurtful or attacking anyone. If you’re going to cross the internet bridge, beware of the trolls that lurk all around!

  3. margosnotebook Says:

    I think there are constructive ways to give someone feedback that doesn’t leave them in a valley of despondency or a pit of despair and if you have the right attitude its not hard to strike the right note.. I certainly appreciate honesty but I’m as fragile as the next writer and prefer criticism couched in kindness 😀

  4. Chuck Collins Says:

    Writing is the only human endeavor that is not only subjective to others, but to our future selves. We were cleaning out a storage shed last weekend and I found box after box of printed versions of my first three novels. Ten years of determined attempts at learning something that is so bloody frustrating to be a gift likely spoiled before it is realized. Think of the early novelists, quill and parchment, few teachers or critics, even fewer literate customers, yet they persevered, bent-back, month after month, years to perfect a story that most certainly remains in the shadows of history. Why did they do it? Same reason we do: because we have to. There is nothing wrong with expecting a living from this gift – it only takes one tour de force that affords an artist the liberty to do as he or she pleases and continue the full-time pursuit. Where and when that work comes about is a quest, to borrow a phrase, into an undiscovered country of faith and determination.

    • Pat Bertram Says:

      Interesting that you should mention that writing is also subjective to our future selves. In my case, I hope not! I specifically wrote my books for my future self. I wanted to know that there would at least a few books of the type I like to read when I got older. I figure with how easy it is to forget when one is old, maybe I wouldn’t remember writing the books and could enjoy them as new.

      Wishing that we both succeed in our quest to make a living off writing. As you say, it only takes one . . .

    • Pat Bertram Says:

      Yes. 200 — mostly just query letters, but some requests to see the manuscripts. (They all said the books should be published, they just weren’t the right fit.) If one wants to be published by a major publisher, one needs an agent, and agents are very hard to deal with. You have only a short query letter to catch their attention. I did have three agents, though none were any good. I found out later the major publishers only accept books from certain agents, and none of the three were on that list. It’s a closed system. Back then, self-publishing was just starting to become popular, but I didn’t want to go that way, hence all the attempts to get published.

      • rami ungar the writer Says:

        i’m thinking of getting self-published; if i don’t have success with finding an agent, maybe i’ll just go that route. what’s your take on it?

        • Pat Bertram Says:

          I think self-publishing is an option, and one that should be considered. It just depends on what you want. Some people query a couple of agents and maybe an independent press, and then give up without ever finding out if they could have made it big. It’s true that a few people have made it big self-publishing, but most sell only a few books. Like everything else, some people have a stroke of luck almost immediately, others have to work for many years to become overnight successes.

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