Only One Thing Will Make You A Better Writer
Obviously, you need to hone your craft and develop your skills, and there are certainly a multitude of styles and genres to choose from. But the one thing you definitely have to be is open. Open to the idea your work might need to improve.
But you can’t be honest about what you need to do with your writing if you worry about what other people think of you. What they think of your writing is another matter. But tying up your self-worth with the stories you produce is not helpful.
The work is the work, and you are you.
Do Not Trust Your Gut
Let’s say you’ve written a story, you think it’s pretty good but you know it needs work—and you’re prepared to do that work—but being so close to it, it’s hard to know exactly what to change and what not to change.
So, you give it to a couple of people to read and they both zero in on the same thing that needs fixing. And you’re pleased because you too suspected that part needed work. However, the suggestions they make for what’s wrong with it and what approach needs to be taken to make amends is totally contradictory. One says do more, the other says do less. One says this story needs more of Mr X, the other says it needs more of Mr Y. Make it quicker, no, make it slower.
And the thing is, you can see both make valid points. They both have merit. Either could be right. What do you do?
Every writer needs feedback on what they write. You might have a strong sense of what you write or you may have no idea if it’s good or bad, doesn’t matter. Only when you get the response of another person will you start to have an idea of exactly what you’ve got.
The problem is you may not feel comfortable showing it to people around you. They may not want to read it. They may try to be too nice. They might be idiots who don’t know what they’re talking about. But mostly, if you’re anything like me, it just isn’t great having to ask such a big favour of someone and have nothing to offer them in return (other than getting to read a rather sucky first draft).
So, the answer is to use an online writing workshop. People in a similar situation looking for feedback on their work get together and help each other. What a wonderful example of civilized human behaviour. Sort of.
Yes, but that’s just your opinion
The goal for the novice (or even the not so novice) writer is to write better. That doesn’t necessarily mean writing to a grammatical gold standard, or following the rules laid down by the late and the great. It just means finding the words to tell your story in the way you would like it to be told. In your voice.
The thing is, we are all capable of moments of clarity where we say what we intended, in a way that hits home and actually means something. But we are also capable of saying the wrong thing, doubting ourselves, stammering like a loon and then bailing on the big moment we had been building up to. The great thing about writing is we can sift through the first draft and keep the good bits, and keep reworking them until they say what we meant to say.
It’s okay to write down a bunch of stuff that happened (in reality or imagination) but what is the effect you want it to have? Sympathy? Outrage? Amusement? It’s only once you figure that out that you can start deciding which bits are unnecessary, and which bits are missing. But it isn’t important so that the reader reacts the way you want them to. Readers are a varied bunch and will interpret your words in an infinite number of ways whatever you do. The important part is how it affects you, the writer. What does it mean to you? Because that’s the voice you want to write it in.
Finding people who can help identify what it is you’re going for (when sometimes you don’t even know yourself), and who can also help you get there, is no easy task. It isn’t impossible, but you should bear the following in mind.