Change

Change

Nobody likes it, but everybody has to do it.

That’s right. Change. I don’t know anybody who absolutely loves change, do you? Some people embrace it well, find the good things about it, but too many people despise what change stands for – disruption. And I’m counting myself among them.

When I first started writing, I didn’t want anyone telling me what to do. I knew what I was writing was good, and there was nothing anybody could say to make me see differently.

Then I took a creative writing class in college. It was the last semester of my senior year and I was only taking 12 credits. Unheard of for me. I usually killed myself with 18-21 credits. Stupid me.

Anyways, the instructor was more into creative non-ficiton and poetry, and I’m all about the fiction. She really challenged my conception of what writing was, and I didn’t like it.

I can honestly say I didn’t learn anything about how to write better from her class. I can’t tell you any single thing she said that stayed with me. Even now,  I know my writing has improved through sheer volume of expression, and due to the amount of books on read on how to write well.

The thing I took away from that class was how to accept criticism. The first time we did a round-table discussion about our individual projects, I left the class crying, or at least I did when I made it back to my apartment. I couldn’t believe anyone could look at my work and find a flaw. It was unthinkable!

It took many of those discussions for my skin to harden a bit and for me to realize what most of the class was telling me was spot on. I finally acquiesced to some of their advice (not all, because I still have my own voice as a writer), and found that my writing was much better for it.

I’d been one of the top students in English in high school, and I figured I’d be the same way in college. When some of my other classmates got better grades and had better insights, I was crushed.

But by the end of the semester, their advice and criticism, no matter how much it hurt, propelled my writing to a place it had never been. And I ended up with a perfect score on my portfolio. But I would not have had nearly as good a mark if I hadn’t CHANGED!

I’m a living testament to the benefits of change as a writer. I know my work wouldn’t currently be under review by a literary agency if I hadn’t undergone a good deal of change in how I write, and the perspectives I have on writing. Even if I don’t get signed, it’s still a sign that somebody is interested.

We can’t stay stagnant, because the literary world won’t stand for it. It’s a cut-throat business and if we’re closed to the concept of change, that world will devour us and spit us out.

So I’ll tell you how I’ve changed as a writer. Just a few tidbits.

1. Actively seek advice from experts. Whether that’s in beta-reader format or in print or via verbal communication… listen to what they say. Then take that advice and use it. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t, but I’ve always come away from the experience with something valuable.

2. Don’t be afraid to fail. In school, I’d have an anxiety attack with any grade less than an ‘A.’ As a perfectionist, it was killer to know I wasn’t performing as well as I could have been. It’d eat me up inside. As a writer, I can’t do this to myself. I know there will always be someone better than me, so while I should strive to be the best that I can, I can’t go for perfection. Because it doesn’t exist. And we learn a heck of a lot more from failure than we do from success. Success makes us cocky. Failure makes us humble. Don’t hate the failures. Learn from them.

3. Edit your work to shreds. I hated it when people told me this, or when I’d read it in nearly every book on writing I’d ever read. I thought I was editing my work. I thought I did a good job. Then, a year later, I’d re-read what I’d written alongside the new stuff I’d written, and I’d almost feel ashamed at the first work. I couldn’t believe some of the shoddy workmanship. But as C.J. Cherryh says, “It’s perfect okay to write garbage, as long as you edit brilliantly.” Editing can be a chore. It takes time, sweat, and sometimes tears, but it always helps in the end. And if something is missing, put it back. There’s no rules about that. If you take something out, you can always put it back. But editing should be a bit vicious. If you don’t think so, ask someone with an editor at a publishing company. I can tell you from friends of mine… it’s brutal.

4. Never restrict your imagination. Don’t question when you write in stream-of-consciousness or when brainstorming. Second guessing yourself is chaotic and destructive. Usually the best bits come out of that random place. Never restrict your imagination. You can always edit later. But if you don’t get it down to begin with, how will you know what you’re missing?

5. Don’t lose your own voice. After all of the above thing that I’ve changed, I still won’t let myself surrender my own particular flavor of writing. But I can’t drown in it. I need to embrace my individuality, but recognize that I can’t be so caught up in how I want to do things that I risk an opportunity that will change my writing for the better.

Those are just a few things I’v learned in the last 15 years that I’ve been writing. I won’t get into the nitty-gritty technical things that I’ve changed with my writing. That list would be far longer.

So, tell me. How have you changed as a writer? How has it helped/hindered your progress? Have you helped anybody else change? Did it make them a better writer?

Enlighten me.

Happy writing!

 

“Everyone thinks of changing the world, but no one thinks of changing himself.”
― Leo Tolstoy

“The world as we have created it is a process of our thinking. It cannot be changed without changing our thinking.”
― Albert Einstein

“The snake which cannot cast its skin has to die. As well the minds which are prevented from changing their opinions; they cease to be mind.”
― Friedrich Nietzsche

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45 thoughts on “Change

  1. I’ve changed a lot as a writer. I remember when I was getting my BA in Behavorial Science, a teacher said to me that my writing was very basic. I was livid! I had always gotten good grades on my papers. But, I noticed that my problem area was grammar. It’s always been grammar. I just took a grammar 101 class as well as purchased many books. If you haven’t read, ” On Writing” by Stephen King, pick it up! The grammar class has helped a little. I see improvement in my writing, as far as grammar goes. How am I doing so far? LOL…Scholarly writing makes me a little nervous. It’s so technical and you have to not write in first person and all that jazz. I did okay on those papers. There is nothing like creative writing. I got my Master’s in creative writing and I LOVED it! Now, I just enrolled to get my PhD in Human Services. You know what means, more scholarly writing! I’m anxious about it, but I will use all of the resources that are available for me. People tell me that I’m a great writer, and for a long time I was very cocky about my writing. One thing that I would do is write and not proofread. I saw so many typos and errors from writing so fast. I still do it, but I’m more cautious and mindful of it now. Currently, I have a screenplay and a novel to work on. I have been on a mental block for over a week now. I don’t know. I write a few sentences and scenes here and there. But, my writing mentor said, ” When you don’t feel like writing, don’t!” So, I haven’t been. Well, I blog often, but I want to get into reading more. I will pick up my writing projects again very soon.

  2. This is an awesome post…Especially the part about editing, UGH! I’m definitely learning that one the hard way, but I like my work so much better afterwards, and it’s funny to think that I thought I liked it before. 😉 Your post brings to mind one of my favorite sayings: “Smooth seas do not make skillful sailors.” ~African Proverb 😀

  3. Just dropped by for a snack! Just kidding couldn’t help it your talking of food. But on how I have changed, a lot since those days in the fourth grade writing poetry to home spun horror and trying to figure out what this monster in me was trying to get out all the time. I used to not touch my writing once I had it down. Now it runs for cover, and I chase it down with a machete; lots of blood letting on the byte floor Also I have really took in the stages of writing as a religious caste. Hope that don’t get out. Writing requires time. It requires to be beat to death just kidding, sometimes. In another of your post you mentioned changing your story in a way that was not your first thought exactly right sometimes doing something totally about face brings a blaze of inspiration that changes the whole aspect of that character – it did in the book I am presently finishing up in editing.

    • Haha! Thanks for stopping by and following! Writing as a religious caste? That’s fascinating! And yes, I’m changing quite a bit of my stories, but it will hopefully be something that will keep people on their toes, not frustrate them to the point of tossing the book aside.

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