Writing advice


As a writer, I’m always looking for ways to improve my work. It could be something simple like deleting semicolons (to which I am devoted), or it could be something as complex as a plot line or character that’s weak and needs work. Writing a book of any sort is really not an individual effort. If a writer does not seek feedback, critique, or editing from the outside world, the work will not reach its full potential. Not seeing the forest for the trees is part of a writer’s life.

But there are times when critique or advice or feedback or even editing is dangerous. It can be offered from a standpoint of ignorance, from a twisted desire to sabotage (significant others are good at this), or simply from inattention. Whatever the cause, the writer has to decide for herself whether or not to listen to it. So how does one decide? Sometimes it’s tough, sometimes it’s easy. If six people tell you the same thing, you better listen. If only one person mentions it, you’ve got wiggle room. This sounds easy to decide, but it isn’t.

Nothing about writing is simple or straightforward.  If an early writer goes into creating fiction thinking it’ll be easy, she’s in for a huge surprise.

Accepting critique is, paradoxically, not for beginning writers, who need it the most. Not only is there a innate desire to protect the work (and of course the writer’s delicate feelings) but there’s not enough accumulated knowledge to know which criticism to accept and which to disregard. To try to be all things to all critiquers can be disastrous. Learning the difference is only done through experience. A lot of it.

Now for my advice. Listen to your own internal editor when you get a critique. If it isn’t clear, ask why, seek out the details that back up the comment. Don’t be timid. Be nervous but not afraid. Critiques are opportunities to learn, to improve, to get closer to mastering your craft. Which, as Hemingway promised, you’ll never master.