Writing: Improving Your Craft

Whether you’ve been writing all your life or you’ve just begun, you always have the opportunity to improve your craft.

Writing Tip for Today: Here are some markers you can aspire to on your way to being the best writer you can be:

Humble Pie

When I had initial success at age seventeen, I was sure I knew everything there was to know about writing. Stop laughing! In college I had a series of professors who brought me back to earth. And when I began to learn to write for publication, I ate humble pie even after a brief success here and there. Every serious writer knows the opportunity to improve is always there, begging for our attention.

Having your creation come back covered in red ink is no fun. And sometimes the editing is plain wrong. But when we let our egos get in the way of excellence, everyone suffers. Your readers don’t get the clarity or artistry they need. Your crit group or editor is frustrated when you argue. And then there’s that place deep down that whispers you could do better.

We talk a lot about developing thick skin for dealing with rejection. But I think writers need a skin that understands their writing is not about them. Writing is always about your readers—otherwise it’s a diary or journal. Still, rejection hurts. If you are getting rejected, ask yourself what you can learn. Write a lot. Read, attend conferences or seminars or find a peer critique group. But don’t let rejection stop you—it’s a part of the learning curve.

Good Rejections

If you keep at it—there’s that 10,000 hours of practice we all need—you may begin to receive what is known as “good” rejections. These are generally handwritten notes of encouragement from the place you submitted to. And while they’re still rejections, the fact that someone reading your stuff took the time to say something more than a form rejection is a good thing.

What do good rejections mean? Overall, these little notes scribbled on the bottom of the rejection notice or email mean, “We can’t use what you sent, but we like your work and think you should keep trying.” In other words, good rejections are kind of like rainbows after the terrible rainstorm of the N-O.

I’m not sure if it’s productive to try to suss out exactly what you could have done to get a yes, but if you read an issue or two of what they do publish, you will know more about what they’re looking for. If your agent is shopping a book, you want to be sure your agent knows exactly which publishers publish in your genre or topic.

Good rejections are rainbows after the terrible rainstorm of the N-O.

More Winning

Book-length manuscripts may take far longer to place than short pieces, especially if it’s your first book. While you hone your skill, take advantage of submitting to periodicals or contests. Offer to write for free for small publications such as organizations’ periodicals or even a small newsletter.

As you practice, learn to embrace revision. This important skill will help you get where you want to go faster than knowing the right folks or snagging an endorser. Editors want to work with writers who understand that writing is rewriting. Learn to let go of what is clunky or doesn’t work and replace it with a better alternative. Don’t be afraid to rewrite as many times as it takes to get to polished and professional.

While you’re learning your skills, decide what you are most passionate about and start building credibility in that area. In these days of platforms and influencers, writers still must consider branding. But even before you build your writing around that brand, keep learning the writing craft. Improving your writing will help you attract readers and keep them.

 

About Linda S. Clare

I'm an author, speaker, writing coach and mentor. I teach both fiction and nonfiction writing at Lane Community College and in the doctoral program as expert writing advisor for George Fox University. I love helping writers improve their craft and I'm both an avid reader and writer of stories about those with wounded hearts.

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