I love this meme. I posted it last Friday with the rest of the “Especially for Writers” memes, but the reason this particular one resonates with me is because it’s the story of my career.
Here are some lessons from it:
Write, write, write some more–keep at it. Daily, if possible. On a regular schedule, if possible, but on your schedule, not on your muse’s. If you wait for that elusive, lazy little imp to awake and help you, you’ll never get it done, you’ll never finish what you’ve started, and–worse of all–you’ll never have the discipline required to call yourself a professional at this business.
After you’ve written, show it to people whose opinion you respect. If that’s Aunt Martha, fine–show it to her. Does she know about writing? This is something that freaked me out when I first started this mess. I have a degree in English, but guess what? That didn’t mean I knew how to write a novel. The benefit of being in a community of writers is that you can meet like-minded people of varying degrees of expertise, and some of them will be willing to help you with your work. You can rely on the word of those who know, not just those who think any scratching you put on paper is brilliant (although those folks are vital too. If your ego gets crushed too much, you’ll need the salve they provide). Every genre has a professional organization. Check ’em out and join one or two. (Yes, they’ll most likely come with a price tag. Consider it a tax deduction. You can do that.)
Get beat up–figuratively, of course. But it does hurt, having something you’ve sweated over for the longest time ripped to shreds. Even the kindest of critique partners can tear your heart out, because what they’ve found wrong with the piece is the only thing you remember. Compliments disappear into thin air. But if you’ve done #2 and submitted it to people you respect (preferably other authors), you can learn from the experience.
And if you learn from the experience, the “rinse and repeat” part will bring better results and less beatings.
A few things to keep in mind:
- if you’ve been getting beat up regularly, pay attention to what your critique partners are pointing out most often, then study that aspect of writing.
- if there are too many things the critters are red-lining, maybe it’s time for comprehensive study. There are tons of books and websites that can help that “light bulb” illuminate your mind. Believe me, once the light comes on, you’ll be amazed at the difference in your writing.
- if you’ve studied like crazy and most of your critters are happy with the results as illustrated in your work, but one is cranky? Remember this: most authors think they can do something you did better than you did. Some of the most egotistical of us believe that your work isn’t right until it’s written precisely as they would write it. Once you’ve learned the craft well enough to know the difference, you can tell the difference between a valid critique, a novice critique, and a blowhard trying to tear you down.
The secret to #3 is that you must study the craft. There’s no way around that. You must study the craft.
Then, repeat. Repeat. Repeat. Keep writing. Even if you become the one whose opinion others respect, you’ll never stop learning. So, write, write, write, rinse and repeat–and eventually you won’t get the beatings in between.