Tuesday, January 14, 2014

11 Things You Have To Accept To Become A Better Writer

There are facts of the writing life that you can't change.  Sure, you can try to ignore them, but it will never do you any good.  If you ever want to get better, there are certain things you have to deal with and learn to accept.  Here they are:
  1. No piece of writing is ever perfect.  No matter how hard you try, there will always be some aspect of your work--your novel, your short story, whatever--that could be better.  No book, no matter how popular, well-written, or critically acclaimed, is perfect.  There will always be something you'll wish afterwards that you could change.  Human beings aren't perfect, and we are not capable of perfect writing.
  2. That being said, strive for perfection anyway.  Even though your writing will never be perfect, you have to keep trying for perfection.  If you set your sights anywhere lower than this, you will fall short of your potential as a writer.  I heard someone say this once, and it's true: "Strive for perfection.  You will not achieve it, but you might achieve excellence."
  3. There will always someone better than you.  Every writer has read an amazing book and thought, "Wow, I'll never be as good at writing as this author."  That particular author has also had the exact same thought.  No matter how good your writing is, there will always be someone who knows more about the craft and has had more practice.  This is okay.  If you were the best writer in the world, what motivation would you have to improve, anyway?
  4. There will always be somebody who is worse than you, but somehow still gains more success.  You'll also read novels that make you cringe and go, "Why did anyone ever publish this garbage?  My one-eyed fish could write a better book than that.*"  Awful books get published all the time, for whatever reason.  Maybe someone actually thinks they're good; maybe someone just thinks they can make money off it.  Either way, the bad books will just keep coming, and you'll wonder why they can get published while you just keep getting rejected.  It happens, and there's no good way to explain it.  All you can do is accept it and move on. 
  5. Rejection letters are a fact of life.  Author Barbara Kingsolver said it better than I can: “This manuscript of yours that has just come back from another editor is a precious package. Don't consider it rejected. Consider that you've addressed it 'to the editor who can appreciate my work' and it has simply come back stamped 'Not at this address'. Just keep looking for the right address.”
  6. You need to finish things.  If you never finish a book, you'll end up with dozens of half-written novels, and you won't have learned much from it.  Finishing a book is often the biggest battle, and if you've overcome it, you're already one big step ahead of many other writers.  If you never finish what you're writing, you'll never learn to wrap things up or revise.  You might become good at beginnings, but you'll never get better at writing an entire novel, as a whole.  Besides, if you ever want to be published, you have to learn to actually finish, since that's what editors and readers will expect of you.
  7. There are no shortcuts.  It would be nice if there was a faster way to write a novel, but there isn't.  Then again, if it was faster, everyone would do it.  You can spend all the time you want looking for a way to write faster, but there's no substitute for sitting down and just doing it.  Just churn out the words.  It's the only way.
  8. It's not always fun.  Some parts of writing are less fun than others.  Maybe you hate outlining, or revision, or line edits.  Maybe you know you have to delete a certain scene, but it's hard to see it go.  Writing a novel is an experience full of these difficult things, but the fun parts, the parts that remind you why you started writing in the first place, are so amazing that they make it all worth it.
  9. Write the book you want to read, not what you think somebody else wants.  Before you worry about pleasing your readers, you have to first make yourself happy.  If you aren't happy with your book, your readers won't be, either.  Only when you've written something that satisfies you can it be satisfying to others.
  10. There will always be someone who hates your work.  No book can please everybody.  There will always be someone who will think your book is awful, even if there are a hundred other people who love it.  Since this is a fact that you can't change, there's no sense dwelling on it and letting it weigh you down. 
  11. Criticism is your friend.  Constructive criticism might be painful, but if you learn to use it, you can become a better writer.  It's likely that you'll always feel a little hurt when someone criticizes your novel; this is natural, and it's okay.  You have to learn, though, to realize that the critic is (in most cases) not trying to personally insult you.  And if something didn't work for them, maybe they have a point that you've never seen before.
*I do, in fact, have a one-eyed fish.  I call him Nick Fury.

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