Nov 23, 2011

How to Improve as a Writer

I think many of you know that I'm a teacher by day.  English teacher in fact.  But I have the good fortune of keeping in contact with several of my students as they graduate, head out for college and the world.

I recently had a student who worked really hard on a paper.  She is a gifted writer naturally and already had an nature work ethic built into her character, but just decided to chase the writing dream and is trying to raise her own bar.

When she got her paper back, her reaction was of frustration because she didn't the grade on it she wanted.  She did what any frustrated college student did and vented a bit on facebook.  We talked it over a little but her frustration was still apparent.

Then I read several blogs talking about how agents are cruel, editors like to see people suffer, etc.  From what I can tell the difference between my student and several people on the internet is length of work and age.

There is only one way to improve as a writer, and that is to learn the art of biting our tongues, marking up  our manuscripts and taking criticism that is truly meant to help us improve.

Sometimes it hurts.  Sometimes it's annoying and frustrating and hair pulling maddening.  But so is parenting, training kids (and/or pets), music, art, science experiments, cooking attempts (lemon meringue pie here I come!) and pretty much anything in life worth pursuing.

If we truly want to be writers, other people are going to have to be involved.  Period.

What are tricks you have learned when critiques are difficult to hear?  What has made the biggest difference in your improvement in the writing?   

And, most importantly, are there any tricks to not ruining a lemon meringue pie!?! (Freaking out a little...)

Hope everyone has a fantastic Thanksgiving and that your Black Friday excursions are full of polite people and lots of money saved :)


Cassie Mae said...

Whenever I receive a critique I don't necessarily agree with, I try to chalk it up to difference of opinions and move on. It's my story after all. I expect the same from the writers I critique. If there is something that I don't agree with, but that person may very well be spot on with the comment, I check with my other cp's to make sure.

I've also realized I may be angry reading it initially, but after a few days, I can see their point. :)

Juliana L. Brandt said...

I second Cassie's comment. Great post!

Susanna Leonard Hill said...

I third Cassie Mae and second Juliana :) It's always good to give yourself a little time to digest criticism. It always stings so much when you first get it. But if you can let it simmer on the back burner for a few days (or longer if need be) eventually you can come around to seeing which parts of the criticism may actually be merited and worth paying attention to and which parts may not. The hard thing (but important) is to remember that it's not a personal attack.

Dianne K. Salerni said...

Excellent post!

I agree that accepting criticism and learning to improve from it is an important aspect of becoming a better writer. I loved what you said: "If we truly want to be writers, other people are going to have to be involved. Period."

Someone I know who self-publishes (but also complains about being unable to find an agent or break into traditional publishing) once said to me about editorial suggestions: "If I'd wanted to write it that way, I would've done it that way in the first place." And I bit my tongue. Because this is why her writing career wasn't moving forward at all.

Have I received critiques that were hard to swallow? Yes. Am I shaking in my boots over receiving an editorial letter for my next book from an editor I've never worked with before? You bet!

Here's my strategy: When I get feedback that upsets me -- maybe suggests that I change something in a way that doesn't match my vision for the piece -- I consider these two points:

1. What about the way it's written now made this person suggest a change?
2. Is there a way to fix the problem this person sees in a way that makes me happy, too?

Just because the reader (beta reader, agent, editor) identified a problem doesn't mean there's only one way to fix it!