Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Growing as a Writer

I'm not sure what exactly we had in mind to accomplish when we decided to start this blog a few days ago, but one thing I think that we can do in writing it is to get other people to see that probably just about any of us out there writing fanfic has the same insecurities and misgivings as those of you who have written something and are too afraid to post or have at least been thinking about writing something but don't think you'd even be able to show it to anyone.



If anything, we should all at least sit down and write, if that's what you want to do. Don't be afraid to write something that isn't any good. Here's a little secret: almost all of us aren't any good when we first get started. But you know what? If you keep at it, you get better. And one of the main ways to get better is to ask someone for help. I had a writing teacher in college (I know, some of you right now are thinking, she studied writing in college? Seriously? She should ask for her money back) who told us all that the first stuff we wrote for her was going to suck. And she used that word. But by the end, we weren't going to suck so much. And she was right.



I think all of us need to not be afraid to suck at first. But nobody ever said you had to publish the sucky stuff. The best thing you can do is start sending your stuff to a trusted friend who can help you and take a look at it and give you constructive criticism. The trick is, you have to be willing to take the constructive criticism in the manner in which it was intended. It's called contructive for a reason, they only want to make you a better writer. And honestly, a lot of times it doesn't take long at all before you start automatically fixing those funny little nuances that you find you use in your writing that lead to a less-than-perfect story.



Some people struggle with punctuation or paragraphs or switching tense within a sentence. None of these things make you a bad writer, it's just something that you need to be made aware of so you are looking out for them in the future. I know the first time I sent something of mine to someone to get beta read, one of the things that was pointed out to me was my sentence structure. It was all the same, never varying. He went there. She did this. He said that. I hadn't even realized I'd been doing it. Does that make me a bad writer? Well, maybe. But by being made aware of it and on the lookout for it I could at least vary things and make it just a little bit better. It's why we can sometimes go back and look at the first things we wrote and cringe at how bad they are, but we all need to start somewhere, right? Otherwise, how can we possibly get better?



For some reason I have been asked by more than one person to beta read their stuff, not just Push. Really, she had just contacted me after I reviewed her first story and she asked how one went about getting a beta reader, because she didn't have one. And I offered. In retrospect, I shouldn't have done that ;) Totally kidding! No, really though, if you looked at the first stuff she sent me and then at what she sent me just today you'd see a huge difference in the amount of corrections being made. Perhaps some of that is laziness on my part (kidding there, too) but really it was just that she became aware of certain things she was doing that weren't quite correct and with practice, she doesn't do them anymore. Most of it was just mundane stuff like punctuation, but still, as a reader it can be distracting when some of those things show up incorrectly in a story, so it's always good to let someone else take a look at it before you publish. Also simple stuff like using the same word a couple of times in a paragraph when you could vary it. That's something else you might just completely overlook if you're trying to edit your own stuff.

I'll mention another writer who several months ago asked if I'd be willing to take a look at something she'd written. You know her as Digs. And if you don't know her, you should, and you should immediately go to ff.net and start reading her story "Children of the Future." I don't know why she asked me specifically, but I was so glad that she did. She sent me the first ten or so pages of the story she'd written and wasn't sure if the idea was worth pursuing. Are you kidding? I thought it was one of the coolest, most unique ideas for a Han and Leia fanfic I'd ever come across. That's just one example of a story that might not have gone anywhere if she hadn't taken the leap and decided to let someone else look at it. It was also another good example of growing as a writer, as if you saw a comparison between the amount of editing I did on the first batch she sent me as compared to the last batch, you'd be amazed. And again, this has nothing to do with her abilities as a writer, it was mostly just punctuation errors and such, but those things can be detracting in an otherwise great story and you never want anything to take away from that. And yes, you should be jealous, because I know how that story ends ;) You won't be disappointed!

It can also be very encouaging to have someone else read something of yours and give you feedback on it. For most of us, it is nearly impossible to look at our own writing objectively. We are way harsher critics of our own stuff than anyone else is likely to be. Even if we are helping each other become better writers by mentioning things that could be improved upon, it is equally if not more important to mention the things that you like about someone's story. It's funny how we tend to notice the negative feedback far more than the positive ones. I swear, if I got one negative review I'm not sure that twenty positive ones would keep me from fixating on the one negative.

Anyway, this blog post has gone on too long, I think! But please, don't be afraid to share your work. And don't be afraid of a bit of constructive criticism. It will only make you a stronger writer. We all had to start somewhere!

7 comments:

  1. :) Thanks Z! I don't think you have truely highlighted just how bad my punctuation and gramma was, though! After reading this, I went and had a look at the first beta you did for me and there wasn't a single line without red pen. And that's the main thing that had always stopped me from writing anything down, knowing that my gramma sucked. I also think having a beta reader who will take the time to explain what you are doing wrong and why is invaluable. Although, I don't think I am ever going to grasp the correct tense for "sat" ;)

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  2. Yes, BUT, compare that first one now to the last one I did for you. See? It's not something that cannot be helped, it's just something that takes practice. A lot of times it's just bad habits that you were never informed were incorrect. Anbody can learn it, you just have to want to! And I'm so glad that you took that first beta and improved from there instead of just getting mad at all of the corrections and wanting to forget the whole thing. You're right though, there were a LOT of corrections! ;)

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  3. These posts have been slowly nudging me to write, so I finally started an idea. Yay for encouragement. :)

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  4. I'm so glad to hear it, Elivagar! Seriously, that was part of the reason to do the blog and this post in particular in the first place. Can't wait to see what you've come up with!

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  5. Thanks for the encouragement! Geez, I mean my first pathetic attempt at SW failed miserably (but hey, I'm young, what can ya say?) so I've been sticking to other fandoms where teens hang out to try and get better... maybe I should try again???? You guys are just so amazing, it's so terribly hard to even think about posting! H/L are hard characters and you guys are soso great at them! (BTW, I will review all your stories, I just wanted to see 'em all done before I review each chapter)
    Congrats Digs on the finish! It was amazing!
    Princessofthescoundrels!!!

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  6. Thanks for the comment, Sara, glad you are reading :) I can honestly say that I have no interest in any other fandoms aside from Han and Leia and really never have. I only discovered fanfic at the very end of my teenage years and didn't attempt to write anything until I was maybe 21? And even that stuff isn't very good. However, I don't think it's necessarily entirely based on age. I've read stuff by people claiming to be 16 that are pretty darn good. I think a lot of it is about being excited about writing and WANTING to learn and get better. We all need to strive to do better, and I think that's where having a beta reader or someone else just to look your stuff over is important. And not just to point out when things aren't quite right, but to tell you WHY. Sometimes it takes an objective observer to be able to point these things out. You also have to kind of not be afraid to get that kind of help, because I know sometimes seeing someone edit something in your story can make you feel like, well, forget it, I'm not any good so I'm just not going to bother. NONE of us were any good when we first started. Seriously. But we got better because other people helped us along the way. So don't be afraid to give it another shot.

    Glad you are here with us!

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