I think one of the hardest things to learn from when you start writing is how to accept constructive criticism. I think no matter what we write, whether an assignment from school or a personal account of something that happened to you or a fictional story about two movie characters, writing still feels like a very personal thing. It's like putting yourself out there and if it doesn't get the reaction you were hoping for, it can feel like it is an attack on you as a person. I think it's very easy to get a single negative comment that makes you question what you've put out there and can quite possibly make you never want to share anything you've written ever again. In fairness, some people don't know how to pose a criticism constructively and I can sometimes see why it would make someone want to forget about writing entirely. But, sometimes, what they really want to do is help you be better by pointing something out that is detracting from what is otherwise a good story.
The thing is, I don't think anyone bothers to point out the small things unless they actually think it will make the story better. I've come across quite a few stories where I can tell the writer has real potential but they are making certain mistakes that are just too distracting that they take away almost any possible enjoyment of the story.
By that, I mean things that take you out of what you're reading. Sometimes it's incredibly simple stuff, like a spelling error. If you're writing about how, "Leai went over and took Han's hand in hers," you're going to lose me for a little bit because I'm going to be annoyed that Leia was spelled wrong. Or if you say someone "should of" done something, I'm going to probably not absorb the next few words because I'm going to be thinking that it was supposed to be should have. These little mistakes tell me that the writer didn't bother to re-read and edit their story, and why do I want to spend my time reading something from someone who is unwilling to take the time to make sure these little mistakes were corrected? And I'm not talking about one or two mistakes in a story, because we all have those. I'm talking about the stories that have all sorts of little mistakes throughout which completely take me out of what I'm reading and have me wanting to go grab my red marker. (or type in red font)
So, if you are going to take the time to post something, don't just write it and post it! Edit! Re-read it! Let someone else take a look at it! And definitely don't put an author's note in the beginning telling everyone, "Oh, I just threw this together and it's not very good." How is that supposed to entice us to read it? If you're already telling me you didn't waste much time writing it how do you expect anyone else to waste time reading it? Let us formulate our own opinions. I know this is probably a not-so-subtle way for people to look for validation, but it is not the best way to go about it. Let the writing speak for itself. I can understand that sometimes something spews out of your head, through your fingers and onto the computer screen so fast you just want to get it out there and don't want to be bothered taking the time to edit or anything, but patience is usually rewarded. And why would you not want your writing to be as good as it can possibly be?
I think one important thing to do is to think of it all as a learning process, especially when you're first getting started. A lot of us maybe haven't written much since we were in school and even then we just weren't taught a lot of these sorts of concepts. I know that I was taught a fair amount of creative writing in school, but I'm wondering if that's really the norm anymore or if you're all just stuck writing annoying research papers and essays on books you were forced to read which is obviously a very different kind of writing. You you have to want to learn and not be afraid to find out that something you wrote isn't quite correct. Again, this does not mean you're stupid or wrong or not smart. It just maybe means you haven't learned that yet, or weren't taught it in such a way that you truly understood it and learned how to use it correctly from then on. I mean, I swear I think it was barely more than a year ago that I found out that it's not, "All of the sudden" but rather "All of a sudden." Does that make me an idiot? Maybe, but mostly it just means that I had believed it to be one way all these years and nobody ever bothered to correct me.
I can tell someone that a paragraph break is in the wrong place or they are using punctuation wrong around those quotation marks, but it does them a lot more good if I explain why that is the case so they are more likely to learn it, understand it, and do it correctly later. I mentioned in an earlier post that Digs' first several pages of her story were absolutely littered with corrections, and on a lot of them I went to great lengths to explain why things were wrong because she seemed to do them a lot. Again, it wasn't so much the writing but the technical details like paragraph breaks and punctuation. It didn't take long before she wasn't making those mistakes anymore and by the last few pages of her story, I hardly had to correct anything! Well, I suppose it depended on how late into the night she was writing ;)
Once again, there are a lot of people out there writing who frustrate me because I can tell that they have potential to write great stories, they're just doing some little things that detract me too much from really enjoying what they've written. So, please take the extra time to make your story as good as it can be. Learn how to write well. You know, if that's what you actually want to do. Learn to listen to people when they are trying to help you and don't take constructive criticism personally. Anyone taking the time to comment isn't trying to attack you as a person, they just think that maybe next time you might want to use your/you're correctly. Some of you may think I sound petty for getting annoyed by such things, but I'm willing to bet I'm not the only one who finds those types of errors distracting when reading. And it does take away from what might otherwise be a totally enjoyable story.
Another issue is point of view. I think that most of us write in third person, but usually even in this situation you want to write as though you are seeing it through the eyes of only one of the characters in the scene. You can switch back and forth between maybe two, but it should be clear when you do that. Maybe not necessarily putting a line or a chapter break, but at least having a new paragraph. And it gets very confusing if you start writing things from several people's points of view. As in, if you had Luke, Leia and Han in a scene and you have what Han is thinking at one point, then how Leia is annoyed with Han and then Luke thinking about how those two just need to kiss already. It's one of those things you might not even notice until someone points it out (I know I didn't) but once you do notice, it does become distracting if someone is writing from the perspective of too many characters at once.
At the same time, it is very important when helping someone correct mistakes to point out the good things so that they aren't so focused on what's wrong with it. Usually the good outweighs the bad, or else it probably wouldn't even be worth pointing out the bad stuff, and it's nice for someone to hear that a certain line or paragraph was really well written and enjoyed, or a certain reaction from one of the characters. I think we're all a lot more apt to accept criticism when we do see that there are things that are perceived as having been well done within our stories.
It's tough for all of us to accept criticism, even when we know it's good for us. Ask Push about when I sent her the first sex scene for my last story. I felt like she had stabbed me in the heart (ok, maybe not that bad... actually, later she said she felt like she had just run over my dog or something) I think those scenes can feel a lot more personal, so when you get feedback on them that is anything less than glowing, we tend to shut down and just want to forget the whole thing. I know better, and I know I shouldn't have taken it personally, but I did. But we worked through it and got what I have up there now. Of course by reacting like that initially it also makes your editor afraid to point out things from then on for fear you'll go jump off a cliff or something (or something less dramatic). But you don't want that, either. I don't want her to be afraid to point things out because if it's worth pointing out, it's probably something other people would notice and something that should be changed and the piece is only going to be better for it.
In fact, I actually agonized over writing this post, believe it or not. More than anything, I just want to see more good writers coming into the Han and Leia fandom. And I want more interaction between all of us. So I want people to take the time to learn to be good writers. I do not pretend to know everything and I hope that I am not coming across as some know-it-all who thinks she is the queen of fanfic. (that would be a fun job, though) I'm just pointing out some things that I've learned along the way and hope that others can learn from as well. And I'll be the first to admit that I'm much better at pointing out these sorts of things in other people's stories than I am with writing my own stuff. Honestly, some of the people I've been editing for have turned into such great writers I wonder why I should bother with my own stuff anymore!
So, just like the main theme of this post, please take this in the spirit in which it is intended: to make you learn to be a better writer. Just some thing to think about. None of us are perfect and we can always strive for improvement. I've been grateful for all of the things I've learned along the way and hopefully you will be the same. Blind praise may make us feel good, but it doesn't help us get better. And who doesn't want to be better?