So often writers begin a project, then—SQUIRREL! They get distracted by an idea for another project and drop everything to
Rule 6. If you can, join a good critiquing group. Other writers will make your work better and vice versa.
It’s difficult beginning a writing career. For the most part you’ve no idea how good you are. Sure, your family thinks you’re the next bestseller, and your friends are mildly impressed you can string words together to form a sentence, but every submission you send comes back rejected.
What do you do?
Every writer needs feedback to grow and to improve their craft. That feedback isn’t going to come from people who don’t want to hurt your feelings. What you need is good critiquing group. Unfortunately, getting into one isn’t easy.
So many writers are introverts. They like nothing better than to be left alone and write, emerging occasionally from their mental cocoon to get some tea or coffee, check their emails, and maybe spend too much time on social media. Here is where the Internet can be a good thing. There are online groups you can join such as Critters Writers Workshop. It’s free to join, with a simple quid pro quo for getting critiques for your work.
While Critters is a great entry-drug, nothing beats a face-to-face critiquing group. This is even harder to get together. First you have to find the right people, settle on the logistics of location, decide on a suitable time for all to attend, and most importantly, who will bring the snacks. You can try to get into an established group, but I advise against it. Instead, find other writers that are on the same level as you and have the same goals for success. You will soon discover you each have different strengths and weaknesses. You will challenge each other to become better writers. But if all anyone wants to do is get out of the house and share poetry, move on.
So, where to find these people?
Well, going to local genre conventions is a great place to network. Posting on the bulletin board of your local public library is another source. And of course there is our old friend Social Media. I was asked to join my group The Stop-Watch Gang because I’d gone to conventions, made connections so that when the group formed my name came up. Joining the Gang was the best decision of my career.
Okay, you’ve gathered a small group, now what?
Establish rules of conduct and of critiquing. We’re called the Stop-Watch Gang because we time our critiques. Literally. We have five minutes set on a watch. When the five minutes are up an alarm goes off and we stop. That way we avoid extraneous nitpicks and get right into the nitty-gritty. At the end of the critiques the author is free to respond and there is usually a little back and forth on how to fix things. You might think this harsh, but consider we were critiquing 3-4 stories a meeting with some 5-7 members. If you did the math…multiply by 3…carry the one…ah, well, that’s a long time. Anyway, it’s a process that works for us.
Another benefit of a good group is the support you get from them. Writing is hard and while the successes are great, sometimes you just find yourself floundering. A good group can bolster your confidence and reenergize you. Meeting for critiques or just getting together for a lunch is like going to a mini-convention. Usually a few of us go to the same local conventions and have at least one meal together. If we are there in force we might even try to organize our own panel.
That kind of camaraderie is invaluable, especially if you’re an introvert like me.
Believe it or not editors are on your side. They want you to succeed because your success is their success. They also know that, no matter how perfect your story might be, it’s probably going to need some help. A little more characterization here, a little less words there, and yes, correcting the occasional spelling error.
It happens to all of us.
But when your spelling errors become a drinking game and your editor is falling down drunk after the first paragraph, well, then both you–and your editor–have a problem.
You laugh. You scoff. Spelling is a breeze. Well, let me tell you a story. A couple years ago I went back to college as a student so mature that the majority of my classmates were only two years older than my eldest daughter. One of the first semester classes was <gasp> English. Practically remedial English like grammar and, yes, spelling. And half these kids fresh out of high school who laughed, who scoffed, who swore outside of the classroom that spelling was a breeze found themselves struggling. Some even failed. Imagine my shock when the instructor actually announced that words at the beginning of a sentence must begin with capital letters…
The instructor blamed texting. I blamed the school system.
Here is another story of an aspiring writer who couldn’t understand why his stories were getting rejected. I looked over his latest submissions, and of the many glaring formatting mistakes was his atrocious spelling. When I told him, he went, “Huh. I thought they would take care of that.”
Editors are not your personal spellchecker. They are in fact very busy people. They have more than just your story to read. They do more than just read all day. When they do actually begin editing your story, they want to get into the nitty gritty to make your story better. Correcting countless spelling mistakes is not part of that process.
A final story. This guy submitted a story to an anthology. The story was perfect for the theme and he really wanted to get into that anthology. He got rejected. What the heck, he thought and reread his submission only to discover a glaring spelling mistake in the first sentence and three in total with the first paragraph.
I’m still kicking myself. Lesson learned.
So, my intention was to blog a writing rule every week. Fourth week in and I missed one. No, I didn’t do it on purpose, it just worked out that way. Sometimes life gets in the way. Sometimes other projects take precedence. Sometimes you just don’t wanna do it.
As a life-long procrastinator I say, it’s okay.
NanoWrimo is one of my favorite pet peeves. Every year so many people get geared up, making plans and promises, then come the posts on social media:
…I missed my word count…
…I’m sick today…
…I’ve had a limb amputated…
I’m not going to make my Nano goal this year! My life is over! I am worthless!
No, your life is not over and you are not worthless.
The fact is you will miss your word count, you will occasionally get too sick to write, and if you aren’t careful you may well lose a limb. It isn’t the end of the world. Well, the limb part might be…in retrospect probably not the best example.
You have to understand and accept that, despite your dedicated time allotment, your discipline, your multiple awards perched atop your desk for inspiration, you will miss a day or even a week. It happens. And it’s okay. The real discipline is picking it up again as soon as you can and finish your work-in-progress.
Do that and hold your head up high, because you are a writer.
Why this even needs to be said is a mystery. You want to be a writer. You want others to read what you’ve written. Yet you don’t feel the need to read anything others have written?
Good luck with your career as a wannabe.
Every professional author will tell you the importance of reading, especially in your selected genre. Odds are you already do. After all, why not write what you love, right? The key to this advice, however, isn’t only to read for your personal enjoyment, but to learn from what you’re reading. Pay attention to style, to structure, character development, and most importantly to plot. That last thing you want to do is write an entire novel based on robots that have certain rules encoded in them so they can’t hurt humans, and then read I, Robot by Isaac Asimov.
Still, in these modern times, finding the time…or the desire to read can be difficult. Writers with day jobs and family responsibilities who can scrape together 15-30 minutes of free time usually try to fill it with, well, writing…if they have the energy to move at all. Of course there are opportunities where you can pick up a book and read, they just require a bit of sacrifice. Instead of chatting with your friends during lunch, read. Instead of streaming movies on your tablet while taking public transit, read. If you’re a commuter, audio books are a great way to catch up on books. When baby goes down for that afternoon nap…uh, well, okay, do whatever you want.
There is more to read than just your chosen genre. Read anything and everything that catches your fancy. If it doesn’t catch your fancy, move on. Read all forms of fiction, non-fiction, magazines, Twitter, the back of a cereal box, whatever. It’s all information, educational, and food for your creativity. How many people have read a certain science article about prehistoric insects trapped in amber and thought, hmm cool?
Michael Crichton read that same article and thought, hmm, dinosaurs.
Writing is a skill with a constant learning curve. Think of reading as a pleasant form of on-the-job training.