Can’ts of Improving Your Craft

Anonymous asked: “A common theme I see online is ‘Seek outside resources. Get other peoples opinions.’ I don’t have that option. I don’t know a lot of people and certainly no one who can give their opinion or critique or any sort of constructive criticism.” 

I don’t really accept that answer – and if you’re reaching out to me – you probably don’t either. In the age of the internet, anyone can meet other writers and can find a way to receive constructive criticism. Anyone. And there’s safe ways to do it. 

I’ve actually written a few posts on places where you can find feedback, like “On Meeting Other Writers” and “On Finding Feedback” and because of that, I’m not going to really touch on how to meet other writers here. The thing is, if you want to meet them, you’ll meet them. You’ll start finding them everywhere. I talk to people and even if we’ll never exchange work ever, I’ll be quick to learn what they write about. If you’re looking for writer friends, check out those two posts. I talk a lot about that specifically. But instead, I’m going to talk about the kinds of excuses we make. Writers make excuses all the time. Ask them, “Why didn’t you get that chapter done?” and they’ll make something up. I am guilty of it all the time. I don’t know a single writer who isn’t.

But sometimes, these kinds of excuses are actually forming bad habits or preventing you from finding ways to improve. So for instance, if you’re unable to find a good place for constructive criticism, you may not be looking in the right places. You might not be asking the right kind of people to read your work, or it might just be that you’re not asking them questions about it afterwards. In general, I recommend having another writer as a critique partner just because they will want to give you the level of constructive criticism that they also want to receive. Not all readers are going to be great for you either. It might mean meeting a few people and seeing how it goes and who you click with. While I have the luxury of meeting people offline from time to time, I know that’s not the case for everyone, but trust me, there’s no shortage of online spots to meet other writers who want to exchange work. 

This isn’t even the only excuse writer make to keep from improving. Sometimes when we get feedback from a large group of people and it’s generally leaning one way that we didn’t want the story to go in, we push back. I might roll my eyes and say, “Well, it’s my story.” But also, if someone’s bringing it up at all, likely it’s a scene that needs work. It took me awhile to recognize that. If I don’t like their suggestion, I don’t need to take it. Not all suggestions are good, in fact many aren’t, but also, when someone points out that scene that they think should change it means it’s the scene that needs work. It’s not done yet. How you work on it is up to you, but if it stood out, it’s going to be a matter of figuring out how to fix the problem. It might mean trying a few things out before finding what works. 

One more excuse: “My writing is just too bad to make this into anything worth reading.” Okay, most people don’t say it quite like that, but after writing a draft of something and going back to read it, so many writers just give up! They see a mountain of writing and editing and rewriting and throw up their hands, saying, “Can’t do it.” Everyone feels this way. The thing is, if you want to finish your novel, you’ll have to get over that fear and say, actually, I can finish this novel and not let the fear get to you. Tell yourself, I wrote this whole draft. I’ve made it this far. No quitting now. 

It’s so easy just to say you can’t do something, but really it gets in the way of improving. To improve, you’re going to be challenging yourself. Don’t let an easy excuse be the thing that stops you.

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