A book is a metaphor for the life of its writer. As it stands on the bookshelf, its contents are private, hidden - just as the writer spends months, years even, hidden away in the dark womb of her writing.
Later, if you're really lucky, there's a cover. Instant visibility. Here I am, the cover shouts or whispers or giggles or cries. See me. Buy me. Read me. Once the book moves from manuscript to bound copy, it - and its writer - become public property. Just as we all need our daily half hour of sunlight, so too does each book need its time in the sun.
The whole process is like those little weatherhouses where one character swings out when the sun shines and another when it rains. Just as sun follows rain, so does a published writer creep out for his time in the sun - his 'shine time' as Victoria Moran, author of Creating A Charmed Life, calls it. Shine time ranges from the moment the author sees her book on the Waterstones shelf to receiving reviews, giving signings and interviews, readings and workshops. All of which may send her scurrying gratefully back to the privacy of her study to begin the next book.
But what of the unpublished writer? How do we get our much-needed time in the sun? Those precious moments when our work is read and received? An art tutor once told me that she considered the most important thing about a tutorial was having your work witnessed. We all need, she said, to be seen. And I believe we do.
It happens all the time in 'real' life: the privacy of the relationship comes into the spotlight during the engagement, the wedding, the anniversaries; the hours spent by the runner pounding the pavements in training are made visible and honoured during the marathon. The silent hours at the easel are exalted at the exhibition.
We aspiring authors are like moles. Toiling away in the dark, we become almost blind to the sunlight. Yet we crave our 'shine time' just like everyone else. And so we join writer's groups, pay for critiques, enter competitions, read at local slams and submit our work to agents and publishers.
Perhaps you are happy to labour in the dark for ever. Some people choose never to marry, never to race, never to exhibit. Yet I suspect that somewhere in your life you're filling up with shine time on a regular basis: singing in a choir; dressing up for a party; winning the parents' egg-and-spoon race on sports day. Because we all need to be witnessed and applauded from time to time. As Moran writes:
'Nobody is in the spotlight nonstop. Accept that you will shine, step back, then shine again. The moon has phases from dark to full. So do we. We're fully valuable throughout the cycle. At certain times, we just attract more attention.'
So this is just a reminder to consider your shine time and to build it into your writing life in whatever way is right for you - which may be nothing, outwardly, to do with writing.
I find that a daily walk in the sun does it for me. Where do you shine?


emmadarwin said...

Susie, I think this is a lovely post - and very wise. One of the things people don't often list as reasons for having a writers's circle, doing a course, even getting an editorial report or self-publishing their novel when they know it won't make money or get them a commercial deal, is exactly that affirmation - that sense of being heard. Others often think that writers do these things to be told they're wonderful, darling, but it's not exactly that. It's not vanity, as you say, it's a very ordinary, human need.

It's the difference - when you bring a painting home from school - between your mum tossing a 'lovely darling' over her shoulder while she cooks the supper, and her sitting down and actually talking about the blue person who's shooting out of the green chimney. She doesn't have to say it's good, even: just really, really see it.

But personally, I find the transition between the most shiny times - festival sessions, interviews - to home time quite difficult: I've learnt that it's ages before I feel right in my own home skin again, like Piglet leaving Kanga's house all clean and scrubbed, and having to roll in the dust all the way home till he's his own comfortable colour again.

Essie Fox said...

You have such a distinctive tone, Susie. I'm recognising your posts straight away, now - and love them. And as Emma says, they are always wise.


Kate said...

What a lovely post.

Susie Nott-Bower said...

Thanks so much, Emma, Sarah and Kate. (Emma, you put it beautifully with the reference to Piglet and to the mother who really looks).
In recent years I've been beating myself up about my inbuilt need to shine. Now I realise that it's necessary and normal: and that my other inbuilt need - to be alone and creative - is equally so.

Roderic Vincent said...

Lovely post, Susie. Chock-full of imagery - the metaphors were tumbling over each other in my head. And thought-provoking too. Courses and groups can do this, as Emma says, and helping a beginner too. I got a real buzz from reading someone's story and pointing out the basics - it made me feel I'd actually learnt something about this stuff.

Rosy T said...

Beautiful post, Susie, and so very true. And Emma, I love the comparison with needing Mummy to look properly at our miscoloured painting!

Of course we need to see the daylight. Writing is an exercise in communication and it's very hard to communicate and not to feel that we've been heard.

DT said...

Susie, beautifully written. And interesting that your own shine time doesn't mention other people in the experience.

Susie Nott-Bower said...

Thanks Rod, Rosy and Derek.
Rod, I think I may have overdone the metaphors rather, but hey...
Derek, not feeling very shiny at the moment - more hide-myself-away time!

Caroline Green said...

What a beautiful post, Susie.
I felt an immediate sense of recognition here. I think we do all need our shine time. Am going off to think about mine right now.

Susie Nott-Bower said...

Thanks, Caroline - hope you find your shine!

Fi said...

Love this post. I love to 'shine' as much as anyone else and I'm lucky that I get that visibility through the plays that I sell and recently through a panto I've written for the local PTA. However, I would love to shine as a novel writer, a frustration I suffer in my own dark. I've found that having a writing blog helps with this too.

Susie Nott-Bower said...

Fi, thanks, and what you say is so true - blogging does help. Though I always worry I won't be able to think of anything to blog about, it always feels really good to do it.
It's a bit of regular shine time.
Very best of luck with your novel. said...

I do sometimes wonder if in Britain we're particularly shine-deprived, because there's such strong undercurrent of 'Don't show off' and 'He needs taking down a peg' and 'She's getting too big for her boots': it's where the Brit tendency not to take everything ironically and nothing too seriously moves from sensible to poisonous.

So when we grow up, either we sabotage ourselves by feeling we don't deserve to shine or shouldn't want to, or the fact that we haven't learnt to handle shine time makes us get it wrong, misjudge when to revel in it and when to keep our heads down, alienate people rather than attract them, and so on.

emmadarwin said...

Doh! As well as messing up the ID (I blame blogger for that, as it won't translate OpenIDs properly) I also can't type straight:

"it's where the Brit tendency to take everything ironically and nothing too seriously moves from sensible to poisonous.

Susie Nott-Bower said...

Absolutely, Emma. I remember saying just that thing to my old therapist, about getting too big for my boots. She said: 'Time to get a bigger pair of boots, then.'