Okay, maybe not a village, but it takes more than an individual. Or it should.
Yes, one person can write a story all on their own, but it’s foolish to think that they can get a decent finished book to print without any assistance.
Thanks to modern technology and the advent of vanity press, on demand printing, and ebooks, anyone can put their works out into the aether. However, this doesn’t mean that they immediately should once they’ve finished their 60,000+ word book. Traditional publishing can, and often does, take a year or two from the date the publisher says “Yes, we’ll publish you,” before the world sees you’re heart and soul laid bare on the page. During this time a team of people are being employed to make your book as best as possible. Hopefully. There’s agents, editors, copyeditors, cover designers, a marketing team, and many others you may never meet.
In my opinion there’s one more group of people that are essential. Beta readers. These are the first people who will see you’re work. They are your test audience to gauge how strong your story is and if there are any glaring errors in character and plot. The beauty of beta readers is that they can be employed at various stages in the writing process, whether or not you’re self-publishing or going the traditional route.
One of the issues I had when I started writing was that I was grossly mistaken in thinking I could write something worthy of print on the first go around. I figured that editors and others could fix whatever issues arose, if there even were any. One of my idols is Robert Heinlein, and one of my favorite stories is The Door Into Summer. It took him only 13 days to write and had very little editing. Granted it is one of his shorter works, but still, to have that skill. While I still hope to one day accomplish such a feat, I now realize how foolish I was to think I was at that level.
Writing is like any other art form. While there are those who will find they have a great knack for it, it still requires great amounts of time and dedication to become the best you can be. The beauty I find in writing is that it doesn’t have to be a solitary journey. You can get feedback along the way. The key is finding the right people who will assist you. You may have had people who’ve said you should write a story, but you should take a step back and ask yourself if you’re willing to do what is necessary, and if they actually mean it. Are they saying it out of politeness and just because you’re friends?
When it comes to finding beta readers you need to be subjective. Don’t just find people who will fan the flames of your ego and lead you into delusion. This is where a writing group can come in handy. If you can find the right one. There needs to be the right balance of ego stroking and constructive criticism.
Writing a book can be a traumatic experience as it is akin to baring your heart and soul to people you will never know. It can be crushing when someone says they don’t like your work, because it feels like they’re saying they don’t like you. Of course pleasing everyone is impossible and shouldn’t be your intention. There will inevitably be people who won’t like what you’ve written, but if you’ve done all that you can to write the best book possible, people who do like it should outweigh these mistaken fools.
In closing, I want to talk about the evolution of storytelling. Before written language we had speech, and I’m certain telling stories has been around almost as long. Without the written word these stories were passed down from one generation to the next verbally, and most assuredly changed and evolved in the process. If you’ve ever played the game telephone you’ll understand. In a way I think of beta readers as the evolution of this process, allowing the original author to tell a tale, get input from others, and then finish the tale while maintaining overall creative control, to an extent. Thanks to the internet and dedicated fans we now have fan fiction galore which carries on this ancient tradition.
There is also the creative commons licensing route in which the author grants others the right to adapt and alter their work legally. It’s a route I intend to explore with a couple stories in mind. One of my favorite actors Joseph Gordon-Levitt is leading the way and has created an online creative commons group, hitRECord,to explore all artistic endeavors. I highly suggest you give it a look.
So, it may not take a village to write a story, but it should be a journey shared with others.