Friday, February 26, 2016

5 Reasons You Need to Stop Being Your Worst Critic

I know a lot of young writers.
It sorta makes sense, because I’m a young writer myself. So, when I talk about young writer problems, I fit the requirements to be talking about the problems with young writers.

Oh, I’m not talking about problems that young writers have, I mean problems with young writers.
And when I talk young writers, I’m not drawing an age line. There is no line in the sand, no “cut-off” age where any writer above or below the line belongs to a respective group.
See, I know a “young” writer who is in her late thirties, and an “old” writer in her early twenties.

I’m attributing “youth” to “experience”, or the lack thereof.

The problem with young writers I’d like to try and fix today [or at least address, I know I can’t fix it] is the critical way we view our own writing.

I’m part of a writer’s group. Like, one of those face-to-face, meets-in-a-library kind. Sure, I’m also on those online forums (and they’re great places), but I mean the real kind.
We meet once a month in a little library in a small town. I (at 17) am the youngest writer by twelve years or so. Of the thirteen or so people who meet every week (I think the total membership of the group is eighteen or so), I am always the youngest and the “least represented” type of writer. There are five fiction writers, writers who write fantasy or sci-fi or any kind of non-non-fiction. We’re an oddity.

It’s an interesting chance for me, as a writer, to experience others who write poetry, memoirs, non-fiction, devotionals, articles, and the like.
And I’ve learned something that many writers on forums seem to forget: your writing is okay.

Yes, that’s an odd thing to forget. Especially because it might not seem true. Maybe you just started writing and you’ve been told in critiques that you have stiff dialogue or flat characters or a massive plot hole and everything seems to be falling apart.
“My writing is bad,” you think.

It’s not.
Your manuscript may be rough, your characters may be cliché, your plot may be insubstantial, your prose may sound as appealing as a textbook on the composition of human hair, but it is not bad.
Writing is a learn process. It’s about getting better.
Every writer has room to grow. Even C.S. Lewis learned to write better over time. He didn’t just have the gift of writing beautiful things.
He started like you did:

The princess kissed the frog. It turned into a prince. They were happy.

(That is not a quote from Lewis, just an illustration.)

So. How did writers forget this fact?
Well, it may be that they joined communities where they don’t have experienced writers to learn from. They just jumped in and made friends with the same experiences and never had a chance to get better at what they want to do: write.
That’s why I enjoy my real-life writer’s group. There’s a woman there who’s been part of the group since it formed twenty-two years ago. She writes the most wonderful poetry. There’s a man who writes comedic little short stories with wonderful little gems of hope and joy buried in them.
A woman who writes journal-entries that pack more emotion than a funeral and a wedding smashed into a food processor and blended. A man who writes flash fiction about people he knows. A woman who writes abstract poems to describe concrete ideas.
Every single time I go I grow. I learn not just about writing, but about life and about emotion. Even though few of them are into the kinds of fiction I write, they’re still willing to offer their opinions, well-formed and encouraging.

There’s this policy that they have: anyone who apologizes for or puts down their own writing has to put a quarter in the box. We have this little purple box with quarters in it. If you talk bad about your writing, you have to put a quarter in. If you try to apologize for something being rough or bad, you have to put a quarter in.
You’d be surprised how well this works. I mean, it’s just a quarter. I don’t even carry quarters on my person. But at the same time, you rarely ever hear someone talking bad about their writing.

So. Five reasons you need to stop bashing your own writing:

1. Everyone has to start somewhere. Sure, you may not be Edgar Allen Poe yet, but even Edgar wrote a few bad poems before he wrote good ones. Quoth the Raven wasn’t his first attempt at rhyming.
Good storytellers grow. They don’t start at some place of ‘success’ and stay there. Sometimes the steps are small. They fix a specific problem with their stiff dialogue and keep going.
So if your poem doesn’t sound like the wind through the trees, if your novel has a cliché stuck right in the middle, if your characters sound like robots, don’t worry. If you’re bad at something, that means you can only get better at it. It takes time to learn how to do something.
Take me.
I can’t write poetry. It’s not that I don’t know how to rhyme; it’s that poems just aren’t my style.
And that’s okay. It’s a writing weakness I want to learn to overcome. Because poetry is beautiful. Until I fix it, however, I’m not going to go around shouting at the top of my lungs that I’m an awful poetry writer.

2. Being negative doesn’t fix your problems.
An interesting fact: complaining doesn’t solve issues. Sharing links on Facebook to articles that whine about a social issue doesn’t solve the problem.
Putting your own writing down doesn’t fix it.
If your writing is bad, it’s a good thing to admit it. Better to admit your faults than to ignore them. If you ignore problems, they never get fixed. But if all you do is talk about how bad a writer you are, you’ll never not be a bad writer.
That’s just how the world works, kids.
If you spend all your time putting your writing down, you’ll never make it better. So, instead of complaining, instead of making yourself feel bad, do something about your problem.

3. Your bad opinion of your work spreads to others. If I’m browsing an internet writer’s forum, looking for something to read and potentially critique, I’m looking for an idea or concept that sounds interesting. I want to read something written by someone who loves the idea. If you don’t love the idea, why should I?
If your topic title [or any part of the topic] says “COME READ MY AWFUL WRITING” in any way, shape, or form, I’m not going to read. A lot of people aren’t going to read. If you throw yourself a pity party with such self-demeaning comments, I and a lot of other well-meaning people are going to move on.
When you claim to dislike your own stuff, other people are going to assume it’s as worthless as you say.
I’m not saying you should be arrogant and self-conceited, but there’s a way to say “hey, my writing needs work”, without saying “my writing is awful and I’m a horrible person”.
There’s this thing called the middle ground, which works quite well in most situations. Admit your faults – and even ask for help with them – but don’t spotlight those faults as the main subject matter of your story.

4. Faking it really can make it. Confidence goes a long way in creating reality. Overconfidence is real, of course, but a genuine attempt to believe in yourself can –gasp- create real results.
Instead of constantly beating yourself up about your weaknesses, consider your strengths. When someone critiques your writing and points out a flaw, don’t dwell on it. Instead, thank them for their help and set out to fix your problem. The sooner you get rid of weaknesses, the sooner you become a fantastic writer.
On the other hand, however, take the pointing out of flaws with a pinch of the proverbial salt. Most people mean well when they critique, but their critique is their opinion. An opinion you should value highly when they’re an experienced writer, but still just an opinion.

Oh, and all those critiques which do nothing but praise your work? Take those with an even bigger grain of salt. You’re not Ernest Hemingway yet.

5. Give yourself permission to fail. Because you will fail. Sometimes you’ll fail so big it will make you want to weep floods (please don’t, I hate dealing with sandbags). If you’re constantly beating yourself up – whether in jest or not – you will crash and burn. It will be spectacular, in a slightly sad way, and I’ll applaud as the fireworks of your demolition light up the night sky. They’ll be nice fireworks.
But at the same time, those fireworks are bits of your soul floating off to become flecks of dust that other people inhale without even realizing it.
That’s a bit saddening, and I’d rather avoid it and use real fireworks, rather than your soul.
So. When you mess up big, how do you put off the soul-fireworks?
It’s simple: be willing to let yourself fail. Take a deep, deep breath, and fail. Then, when it’s all said and down, take another deep breath, and stand.
Rise up, Maurice.
Get up off your failure of a rear-end and get back to work.

Are you your worst critic? Why? Leave a comment and share!

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