The Imagined Writer

Addressing the anxiety that surrounds publishing your work and presenting it for scrutiny.

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The best writing is not published or shared. It sits on a hard drive in scraps. Cohesive in the mind of its creator; the person who is in the privileged position of the unjudged writer. A person who is able to look down on the lowly skills of those who put their work online and into books. For the owner of this work never throws it into the ring to compete against others, never presents it to an audience for critique, never writes to the point of completion.

To do so would be to take the first step on a journey, one that begins with a confession to the self, that the writer is not the best storyteller to have existed. To be put through that humbling process is often too much given all the dreams leading up to this point. And so the writing sits, festering, knowing itself to be superior. The truth is harder to accept: the first short story taken to completion will be flawed, and so will the second and third. The only way to be a better writer is to write through those first works, make them the best you can, and submit them for publication or into a competition. Take lessons from being ignored, refused, and perhaps accepted.

It is a journey where it is impossible to simply arrive at the endpoint of success and celebration. This is especially tortuous for the writer of fiction who has studied literature, because having written on texts considered exemplary of the form, it is then necessary to find how one becomes an exemplar. It is not enough to entertain; one’s work must last eternally. It is better to be Franz Kafka than Dan Brown, and better to be James Joyce than Barbara Cartland. Transient popularity means nothing; it is timeless art that one must create.

This burden of responsibility—paired with a fear of ridicule by those equally well-honed in the art of criticism as oneself—is a paralysing force. And yet, on the hard drives of those who we imagine might ridicule and think badly of our writing are scraps of chapters, half-finished novels, and pieces of poetry, for they are the same. If no one ever takes the brave step of bringing their work into the open, then no fiction is ever shared.

The act of putting work in front of an audience is difficult for everyone. There is nothing unique about the predicament, and this is why the world is littered with imagined writers. The question to all these imagined writers is whether they wish to remain in this imaginary state—writing only for themselves—or whether they will risk placing their writing in front of others. The opportunities are there, but a choice must be made to take them.

Anthony Levings is a writer compelled by capturing moments in time and history.

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