The Importance of Sharing

Category: Writing

I don’t care what T.S. Eliot says: January is the cruellest month. The first month of the year brings all the freezing cold weather of December with none of the excitement of Christmas. Hatches are battened down; friends go into hibernation. And five weeks is a long time to wait between pay slips.

But January is also a time for resolutions. This year, along with the usual stuff about eating healthily and promising tae be a tidy laddie (thanks for the tip, Oor Wullie), I’ve going to attempt to master the art of sharing.

This will come as something of a surprise to those who know me best. Even when I was a child and shared a room with my brother I was not known for my collegiate ways: I used to be able to launch my brother out of bed in the middle of the night by kicking at the underside of the top bunk. These days, my friends accuse me of being a ‘luddite’ because I refuse to share every detail of my life with the world on Facebook.

You’d think that in becoming a writer I’d have found the ideal profession. So much of writing is solitary, whether staring at the computer screen or dropping deep inside your own mind. Like Liza Minnelli, though, I’ve come to realise that sitting alone in your room isn’t always a barrel of laughs.

So January has been an unusually sociable month for me. A few weeks ago I read at Words Per Minute, the action-packed monthly spoken word event, which allowed me to share a stage with up-and-coming talents such as Claire Askew, Allan Wilson and Siân Bevan. A week later I took part in a performance and presentation session led by voice coach Alex Gillon. While nerve-wracking, the all-day workshop brought the eight participants valuable pointers in improving our reading technique and general confidence about performing in public.

Sharing my writing isn’t something I find easy, though. If I hadn’t been lucky enough to be paired with a mentor thanks to the New Writer’s Awards, it’s unlikely that I would have shown anyone the first draft of my novel. My inner control freak really doesn’t want anyone else to get a look-in, even if I’m not always the best judge of my work.

My abiding suspicion of sharing is at odds with the prevailing mood, however. A couple of weeks ago, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg made a speech in which he claimed that the age of privacy was effectively over. ‘People have really gotten comfortable not only sharing more information and different kinds, but more openly and with more people,’ he said. ‘That social norm is just something that has evolved over time.’

While I remain to be convinced by Zuckerberg’s argument that unrestricted access is now a ‘social norm’ (there is such a thing as ‘too much information, Mr. Z.), I have been taking steps to stifle my inner control freak and start sharing my writing at an earlier stage. Which is probably just as well as there are now more opportunities for writers to collaborate than ever before. Public readings of works in progress are a great way of hearing your work out loud and gauging the reaction of an audience. So are writing groups. I’m a member of a group called Ink Inc., whose dedicated members offer invaluable advice on each other’s work, whatever the stage or quality.

And that’s before we even get to social networking and the blogosphere. A friend of mine has recently begun sharing his crime-novel-in-progress on a blogging site. Readers can download the book chapter-by-chapter and offer advice and criticism in the comments section. Meanwhile, the publishing world is beginning to cotton on to the phenomenon of ‘Twitter novels’ – 140-character works of fiction that have been posted and finessed via Stephen Fry’s favourite social networking site.

Perhaps this writing business is a collaborative art after all?

 

Allan Radcliffe

Allan Radcliffe received a New Writers Award in 2009.