A few weeks ago, I received a lovely message from a reader. This reader had made the effort to reach out and find John Allen, author of a story they’d heard on Morbid: A True Crime podcast. After a little back and forth, I discovered I was not the John Allen the reader was looking for. For one thing, I do not usually write crime stories. I was a bit disappointed but not very surprised. Before I was born, my parents couldn’t agree on what to call me. When I entered the world, one eye refused to work and the bright orange hair sprouting from my head signalled a dark road ahead. My parents were close to giving up. However, in a late spurt of imaginative brilliance, my Dad suggested they name me after him. I’m not offended. I’m lucky enough to have a Dad who’s kind and introduced me to Star Trek when I was 4 years old.
My point is, there are and have been thousands of people called John Allen in the world. Some are famous – there was even a John Allen in Baywatch (no, seriously!) Being confused for another John Allen comes with the name. However, my not-reader’s efforts to reach out and find the right John Allen so they could tell him how much they liked his writing, resonated. That reader helped me remember why I write. 4 reasons to be exact:
1. I love books, plays, movies and telling stories.
2. I love it when I know I’ve written something good.
3. I feel I have things to say which leads to…
4. I want people to read and enjoy my work
When a reader or editor tells me they really enjoyed something I’ve written, I’ll be smiling for a week. When a magazine or website says they’re going to publish or post something I’ve written, I break out a beer and begin dancing around the room (not at the same time). Even a positive rejection from an editor who liked a story I sent, but doesn’t currently have room to publish it, will leave me grinning like an idiot. This happened just last week when an editor in the US emailed to tell me that my work ‘excited them’ and they’d like to see more. This was after they’d rejected a piece I’d submitted.
There are writers I know who say they write for themselves. They write purely for the pleasure of it. Good for them. Sometimes, I wish I were one of them. My life would probably be a lot easier as I find writing one of the hardest skills to hone and earn a living off. To write for yourself is very enjoyable, but I would not dare send my journals or scribbles to an editor for publication. They are too disjointed. Too messy. Too easy to write. Writing for a reader, now that’s a challenge.
It can take time to find readers your work connects with (hell, I still spend a lot of time looking!) Readers are critical (in all senses of the word). They are not afraid to let you know what they think, or what you could have done better. If they like your work, they will be your biggest cheerleaders. You only have to look at the reviews on Goodreads or Amazon to see this. If you betray readers by being sloppy and not showing up for work, you’d better be bulletproof (or at least have body armour to hand). Again, reviews on Goodreads or Amazon will testify to this.
My not-reader reminded me of why I still write and submit. A good story can bring so much joy to someone’s life. Even though I was not the John Allen they were looking for, my not-reader’s efforts to reach out and connect brought a massive smile to my face. So this post is for them, and for every editor and reader who’s ever reached out to say hello or tell me they enjoyed something I’ve written.