There are many reasons why today is a great time to be a writer. For me, one of the greatest of these is how accessible you can be to readers – and other writers.
I grew up reading a lot of science fiction – people like Arthur C Clarke and Isaac Asimov. Getting a fan letter off to one of these writers didn’t get any more accurate than ‘Isaac Asimov, New York’ and ‘Arthur C Clarke, Colombo, Sri Lanka’. I’m sure it wasn’t impossible – but it wouldn’t have been easy.
That’s quite a contrast with how things work today. Many writers, including myself, are available pretty much every day on Twitter, e-mail and Facebook – and reading communities such as Goodreads.
What a difference this makes. You’re immediately available for instant feedback and comments. Instant. We’re all so used to this, that we’ve ceased to be amazed by it; yet amazing it is. Someone picks up my book in Florida; I get a tweet. Someone reads my book in Italy; I get a Facebook message.
And it’s not just about getting a message – it’s about entering into a dialogue. Sometimes the conversation continues for hours, or days. Occasionally it can lead to a friendship.
I really love it. It turns reading from being a solitary experience into a social one. Readers can not only provide feedback easily, they can also ask questions, challenge, converse.
I might be a writer, but I’m a reader too. So I have the same options available to me – if I read a book and like it, I can get in touch with the writer to say so.
Digital feedback is great, but so is meeting people. Last month I met my first book club – they’re reading The Well and, since one of the book club knew me, asked if I’d go along to chat with them. It was a great experience. They were all avid readers – and asked some very incisive questions. Polite they might have been, but they had their views and wanted to express them. It was very different from getting comments online – the nature of a group conversation is very different from a one-to-one or even a Twitter conversation with several people.
What I especially like (apart from the praise, well, I’m vain enough to admit that) is the quality and diversity of the feedback. Readers aren’t mindless consumers – they’re not simply letting the words wash over them, they’re thinking actively about the characters, the plot and the themes. Every reader has his or her own take on each of these – and they can contrast sharply.
I love that too – all of that feedback is actually helpful to a writer. We learn from it, as much as we learn from the craft of writing itself. Imagine a stand-up comedian without an audience – how would the quality of the jokes be judged accurately without the feedback of laughter?
So it is with writing. No longer do writers have to work in a vacuum, or be distanced from their readers. Feedback can be instant and honest, real and alive. This is such a great gift.