This post originally appeared HERE on March 16, 2011.
As we discussed, we're going to bring back some old blog posts from the early days of the blog, where we really focused a lot more on actual writing stuff.
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 constructive 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 or storyteller, it was mostly just punctuation errors and such, but those things can be distracting 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 encouraging 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 stuff. I swear, if I get 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!
*I don't usually beta read anymore. I would like to be able to do it more, but it got to be too much work.
**This is still true. Go read that story if you haven't.
***It's finished, so you can read it in its entirety!