As writers, we all want to learn. We’re all looking to better our skills, to reach that next level, to conquer the challenge in front of us. This past week, I spoke with a writer who’d received critiques that had, as the critiquer promised, “ripped out [the writer’s] heart and stomped on it.” What did the writer learn from this?
Writing Tip for Today: In my little opinion, the writer learned to feel ashamed of her effort, to stand there holding pieces of her heart, without a clue on how to put it together again.
- What’s the Goal? Is it to help writers learn or is it to weed out those who don’t measure up? The critiquer may have believed he had done this writer a huge favor by deflating her dreams, but I don’t think most of us are exactly in the learning mood after being shot down. If the critique doesn’t give any direction on how to remedy the shortcomings, then it’s really not helping at all. If you get feedback that says, “I don’t know why, but I didn’t like X,” you need more specific feedback.
- Find a Big Picture Specialist. If you are in a crit group or class and the feedback is almost always about sentence structure yet you keep getting rejections, you may need story help. If your overall message or story is unclear, preachy, or the stakes are too low, you could axe those “lys” forever and still not get the piece to work. A Big Picture specialist can spot structural problems that matter most to the reader. Study famous authors, and try to identify the course of the action to hone your story skills.
- Get to the Heart. In many stories or even creative nonfiction works, the writer is protecting herself by keeping the camera from getting too close. Readers crave emotional connection. Revisit your work and especially pay close attention to what’s happening between the lines. Learn to take chances with your emotions by “cracking it open,” and putting your fictional characters’ feet to the flame.
- Work Your Work. Over and over all writers must learn the lesson that your writing is not you. The heart can only be stomped if you offer it. I’m as sensitive as any writer I know, but time after time it all comes down to: There are only two kinds of writing: writing that works, and writing that needs work. Time to get to work.