When we fall in love with a craft we can spend every waking moment eating, breathing and dreaming about it. Whether you’re a novice or an expert, the natural desire is to get better. We want to be able to look at where we came from and where we are, and feel pride in the leaps and bounds we made.
Even if, sometimes, those strolls down memory lane are filled with more cringe and existential dread. Trust me. You should see some of my earliest attempts at writing a novel. Yikes.
The first thing to remember is that ‘becoming better’ is subjective. All art is subjective.
Let’s start with something attainable.
Set small goals for yourself. Perhaps it’s bettering your vocabulary, or your descriptions, or maybe even varying up your word choice. The smaller, the more easily attainable, the better!
Why? It’s because if you set a nebulous, far-reaching goal you’re going to have a hard time gauging your successes. Or, successes will come so slowly, you’ll become demotivated to work toward your goal. Ultimately, setting too high a bench mark is a recipe for shooting yourself in the foot.
Next, be as specific as possible.
Like I said before, maybe it’s strengthening your lexicon, getting more eloquent in descriptions or maybe it’s finally grinding those personal clichés into the dirt.
If you go into your ‘become a better writer’ journey without knowing what you want to improve, how can you feasibly know if you are? Beyond that, trying to focus on so many things at once can be incredibly overwhelming. Or, in some cases, completely demoralizing. You want to set yourself up for success in this mission – not predestine yourself to fail.
I am living proof of how specificity helps. Not too long ago, I had embarked on a journey to write more concisely. I had the tendency to waffle on and ‘overwrite’. After much painstaking editing I am infinitely better than I was before. I gave myself something to work toward, specifically, and I smashed that goal out of the park!
Show your writing to people.
I know. That is the scariest part of it. As a blogger and an author? I get it.
But here’s the thing. People have to see it eventually if you plan on publishing. Why not show your work to a close group of people you trust? People who will be honest with you. And gentle. Or rough. Whatever you’re into, I don’t judge.
The first book I ever wrote landed in my best friend’s lap before I showed it to anyone else. And then my mom. (My mom sighed and witch-cackled when she told me she was relieved she didn’t have to tell me, “it sucked.”) Ask them what they liked. What they didn’t like. And take that on board. Which leads to the next, most important bit:
Learn to take constructive criticism.
There’s a lot of valuable insight in peoples critiques. You might not agree with some of it. And that’s fine. But the moment you allow ego to cloud your art is the moment you stop growing.
You will never know all there is to to know about your craft. You could be good. Damn good, in fact. But there is always going to be someone out there who knows more about something than you do, or offer fresh perspectives. Learn from their wisdom. Do not shun it. And do not do yourself the disservice of thinking you know too much to be taught.
All that being said…
There are going to be some bullshit critiques.
Some people just don’t know what they’re talking about (1 star reviewers who say: “This product is great, there’s nothing wrong with it”, I’m looking at you). You have to learn how to differentiate the valuable insights from the outright garbage. It will take some time, but you’ll know it when you see it.
An example of which would include: “I really loved the writing, but I just think that everything about every character should change, and the story and the world all needs to be turned into something completely different.” See what I mean? Trash.
Which leads me to the next point.
Stand your ground. Be proud.
Have faith in your story. Have pride in the words that you put to paper. You created this thing. And even if it’s not the makings of a bestselling novel, have pride in the world you’ve built. In the characters you’ve made real.
There are always going to be people who tell you that it’s not ‘good enough’. There are always going to be people who are determined to tear you down. If you take one thing away from this blog, I sincerely hope that you take away this one truth: your value is not based on the opinions of other people.
If you are proud of what you’ve done, there will be other people out there who appreciate it, too. If you’re not proud? Well, then get back to work. Keep going until you are!
Talk shop with other writers.
If there is anyone out there who understands what you’re going through, it’s other writers. And we are everywhere.
You can find them on sites like Reddit, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram — never mind the many other writing communities out there. Slip into those topics, slide into a writer’s DMs. Make some friends!
Who knows, maybe you’ll find someone to proofread/support your stuff (in exchange for you proofreading theirs, remember to give what you get!).
And the most obvious last step?
Practice makes perfect, right? Just keep going. You’ll get there.
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