To celebrate Kill Your Darlings’ new website, we’ve asked some of our favourite contributors from past years to reflect on their early writing experiences and share their advice for emerging writers.
Today, we hear from Chris Womersley. Chris’s fiction can be found in the very first issue of KYD (‘Theories of Relativity‘).
Because I never really feel like I know what the hell I am doing, I don’t have a lot to dispense in the way of advice, but I did happen to meet a pretty famous author once at an airport who told me something I thought important.
He was far more experienced than me. He’d won a Booker Prize, along with a few other accolades, but he thought it wise not to think of writing literature as a career. What he meant by that, I think, was that it was a mistake to judge your true success by the indicators that might quantify one’s progress (or otherwise) in more regular jobs – in terms of pay rises and promotions and so on.
‘Success’ in literature is almost impossible to measure; it’s not necessarily a relentless upward trajectory in terms of sales or awards or any of those things – as lovely as they might be. Readers are, of course, the name of the game, and a work barely exists until it comes to life in a reader’s imagination. But I tend to think that one reader is all is takes, really. One person who reads what you’ve written and is somehow enchanted, because writing a story is akin to casting a spell in which your victim is also a willing participant.
I don’t write necessarily for myself alone. It sounds vain, and writing is, after all, an act of communication – but my ideal reader is, however, a version of myself. He is the 17-year-old version of me lying on a bed in a room in the suburbs on a wintry Sunday afternoon waiting for Countdown to come on. I’m always trying to lure him away, to transport him to other, better places. And if I succeed in that, it feels like a job well done.