Growing as a writer

When I was writing my first story, I thought every word was golden. I thought every moment of my character’s life was worth writing about. And so, I had a lot of wasted words and hardly any forward movement. My stories were big, as you can imagine, but hardly gripping.

Until I grew as a writer.

I’m convinced the best way to grow as a writer is to put your work out there and have others give you honest – sometimes brutal – feedback. The first instinct is to defend yourself and your writing. It makes sense and is a natural reaction. BUT, after several comments leaning the same way – that your work needs to be reworked – it’s time to give credit to at least some of what’s being said.

I used to roll my eyes at my first CP. Actually, she was my former teacher and then my paid editor. She had excellent advice and perception but it was different than mine and so, at first, I dismissed much of it. I thought she simply did not ‘get’ my story. It took quite some time for me to stand back from my work and realize how right she was.

Now… when I put my work out there, I want the honest truth. No pats on the head, no gentle criticism. I think I’ve grown as a writer in that respect, and want only truth in the feedback I receive. After that, it’s up to me to decide if the suggestions or opinions given will enhance or hinder the story I want to tell. Just being open to the possibilities is a major turning point in the life of a writer.

A writer’s ego is a very fragile thing. And yet, while we seek accolades, we – most of us – want them to be honest.

Another way I’ve grown as a writer, is by realizing I need more. Yes, over the years I’ve considered it, but until now, I didn’t do a thing about it. This year will be the start of something, I think. With the New Jersey Conference around the corner and my registration form nearly filled in, I’m making that next big leap in a writer’s life. It’s exciting – which to me, means it’s time. About time.

How have you grown as a writer? Has that professional growth helped you in personal ways as well?

14 Responses to Growing as a writer

  • I’m so glad you’ve decided to go to the conference, Debbie. That’s a positive step, I think.

    Learning to accept constructive criticism is an important step in our careers. Writers who only want kudos aren’t going anywhere and the chance they’ll ever sell is remote. It’s hard to deal with sometimes, as some critics are brutal without being constructive, but rejection is part of the game. The most important thing is to keep writing. Persistence and honing your craft are the keys to success.

    Linda/Lyndi

  • Debbie and Linda, I agree with both of you. We will keep learning when we are open to criticism and new ideas. Persistence is right! I also think we need a balanced life.

  • Lyndi,
    I’m excited about the conference – though I’ve since learned that I might have to pay full conference fee if I want Daughter to attend. Blah.

    As for criticisms, some critics certainly are brutal, but I feel like once I’m published, there will be harsh criticisms anyway. Why not get used to them now and revise as I see fit so when the other criticisms come my way I’ll know I’ve done my very best.
    ~Debbie

  • Kathleen,
    Balance is indeed what it’s about. Without a critique of our work, the balance is off, one-sided. We think it’s perfect – OR we hate it. LOL. With a crit, at least we have a fair view of how others might see our efforts.
    ~Debbie

  • We all have mistakes we all have to make, kind of like rites of passage. Better that a critiquer spots them instead of an agent or an editor.

    Besides, every writer has critique horror stories. 🙂 If nothing else, they’ll be fodder for future panel discussions. I’m proud to have some to share, too.

    Sort of my new philosophy on life is “It’s not a problem, it’s a feature.”

    Have a great time at the conference. Maybe your daughter can join you at the dinner?

  • Debbie, you will learn much at the NJ conference. I do know from your postings that you have a delightful voice and solid ideas. Please hold fast to the talent you have. Sure, as early writers, we use too many phrases and adjectives. But you have an engaging voice, and I know you will go far as a writer. It takes time to identify our writing demons. Mine is phraseology and it’s so common that it is a real word.

  • Debbie– I am feeling very brave here, and I’m going to shoot this out, knowing that some people will want to shoot me for saying it! In my experience, many Chapter contests and the resulting “helpful critiques” are a bit of bunk. They are fund raisers. I came to this conclusion–about half the time, “judges” don’t always care a whole lot. In my early writing days, I entered contest after contest. It became quite an expense. An identical entry would nearly win in one and bottom out in another. Joining a critique group can either be great or it can be a time-wasting disaster with the blind leading the blind. Our own (OCC chapter) meetings are rich with excellent and helpful speakers. I take what I learn and apply it to what I’m working on.

  • Debbie-
    What Kathleen just said has also been my experience. You may get one good/useful/helpful crit out of ten. And if you do, consider yourself lucky. I have learned more from my chapter meetings and last weekend’s RWA conference than I learned from entering contests and my CP (sorry Miss Heather!). I am looking for a new plotting group and I still use my CP and other readers to proofread and cull out the unnecessary words and blatant mistakes. Ultimately, its your story so changing basic plot is up to you and your future pubilshing editor…. Just my dos centavos.

  • Kathleen and Beth,

    Wow. Thank you so much for being so honest here. All you’ve said makes perfect sense. I have to say I’ve been extremely fortunate. My CP and I seem to bring out the best in each other – and we write in different genres. Neither of us is particularly easy on the other – or deliberately cruel. However, you are absolutely correct when you say – regardless of who gives the crit – ultimately it is our story and it’s up to us to decide what will work and what will not.

    As for contests, I’ve only entered three and I’m still waiting on results of the last one. The first I entered was years ago and the feedback was truly devastating – and confusing. One judge rated it an 8 while another rated it a 3. The judge who rated it a 3 said it wasn’t even a romance. YIKES! Those responses made me want to give up all together. They were so contrary I didn’t know what to do. I did learn from that experience, though. I stayed true to myself and yet took part of what each judge said into consideration. It was a painful growing process but learning to handle criticism – constructive or cruel – has helped me become a more confident writer.

    You’ve all had some great points to make and I value all of them –
    Kathleen said – “I take what I learn and apply it to what I’m working on.”

    Beth said – “Ultimately, its your story so changing basic plot is up to you and your future publishing editor.”

    Rhonda said – “We all have mistakes we all have to make, kind of like rites of passage. Better that a critiquer spots them instead of an agent or an editor.”

    Lyndi said – “It’s hard to deal with sometimes, as some critics are brutal without being constructive, but rejection is part of the game. The most important thing is to keep writing.”

    Such wonderful wisdom, ladies.
    ~Debbie

  • All rightie, Beth has encouraged me. I am now going to share a GREAT BIG SECRET. It is the Long Ridge Writing Group. I learned about Long Ridge from a dear friend at OCC-RWA who had been writing for about five years and hadn’t felt that she was making enough headway with the huge effort she was putting into her writing. She “joined” Long Ridge two years ago and since then, has published five books. I did the same a year ago. One must pay money but then with all the writing classes, we get one-on-one mentors. The cost for a year of classes was about $700 when I signed up. It has been well worth it. My mentor is amazing.

  • LONG RIDGE! I took classes from Long Ridge years ago – in fact, that’s how I met a woman I still regard as a dear friend. She was my teacher and shared some priceless wisdom and advice with me. I took their short-story writing classes though. The novel classes are new, I believe. How fantastic to hear that the program has worked so well for you and for your friend. I wonder if they have any deals for returning students? LOL.

    ~Debbie

  • Kathleen,

    Quick question – Did Long Ridge help more with the writing or the marketing? When I took their course, the marketing part confused me. I was brand new at this so maybe now it would all make sense, but at the time, it was way over my head. I should look back on all my notes…

    ~Debbie

  • The short story course (which is Long Ridge’s first fiction class) is the one I am taking now. Fiction is fiction regardless of length. It is fantastic that you took it, Debbie. Long Ridge is about writing quality, not marketing. The level of writing we are able to do at the time determines what our mentor can do for us. My mentor is Ernest Volkman, and I selected him because he writes true crime with dazzling appeal. Ernie, having worked in espionage, knows how organizations function, knows their errors, etc. Even though I’m writing romantic suspense rather than true crime, I wanted his input. Here’s what I’ve learned– for fast action, don’t put in a lot of emotional reaction. The reader will feel it more if it’s like a newspaper report. My romantic suspense, ALL THAT GLITTERS, 77,000 words, to be released with Whiskey Creek (both print and ebook) in November involves a Russian jewelry theft ring. At the present moment, I’m working on a short story. I wrote a synopsis large enough to be a novel because that’s how my mind works. Ernie cut it down to short story size, but I will write the novel later.

  • Debbie, about marketing. The best way to market ourselves is to get published. Agents and editors are more impressed with getting books finished and sold than they are with contests. Many people who win contests never finish the book. They just work over the first page, the first chapter or first fifty-five pages. The winner does get their work in front of an agent or editor, but they don’t always want it. Someone in our chapter who won three golden hearts in 2006 did not get published until early 2008. Granted, she had something and eventually did become published. After more work on her full manuscripts, she landed a triple book deal.

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