Creative Writing Tips - Dealing with Criticism

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From time to time, I hear from writers who are worried by feedback they've received on their creative work.

- One young man was upset because his high school teacher gave him low marks in writing.

- One poet had been criticized by someone for using question marks in a poem, which for some reason this reader thought was not a no-no.

- A fiction writer had applied for a well-known writer's conference and had been turned down on the basis of her writing sample.

Whenever you receive feedback on your writing, there are a few things that are important to remember.

- The feedback you get on a story or poem is not a measure of its potential. You can always decide to rewrite the piece and make it better.

- No feedback you receive can measure your potential as a writer. However good a writer you are now, you can always improve with practice.

- Any feedback you get is just one person's opinion -- even if the person is an expert; for example, a teacher or an editor. That is why many successful books were rejected by multiple publishing houses before they were finally accepted. Different readers have different tastes.

- Your story or poem belongs to you. You, the author, get to make the final decisions. If someone gives you feedback that doesn't make sense (for example, that poems shouldn't contain question marks), you don't have to follow that person's advice.

Listen to the feedback you receive. Is a certain part of your story confusing to readers? Then you might want to make it clearer. Does someone have an idea for restructuring your poem? Consider it.

Listen to the feedback. Sleep on it; give yourself time to think it over. Then decide what you want to do.

You don't need to change the reader's mind. You don't need anyone's permission. It's your story or poem, and you can write it however you want.

(And, by the way, that fiction writer who was rejected by the conference was accepted by the same conference the following year, and has gone on to publish her writing in a number of magazines and literary journals.)

Creative Writing Tips - Avoiding Frustration

The other day, a student asked me an interesting question:

"How do we stay in love with the process of writing, rather then becoming frustrated when something isn't working?"

I thought I'd share my answer in case it's an issue you're struggling with too.

When something isn't working in your writing, here's what I suggest...

Try to fix the problem. And if that doesn't work, leave it and keep going.

Then come back to the problem later, and try another solution. If that doesn't work, keep going and come back to it later. Repeat the process as many times as necessary.

If you use this approach, you avoid ever getting stuck.

And an advantage of leaving a problem and coming back to it is that you give your unconscious mind a chance to work on it in the meantime. When you come back, you're likely to have new ideas. And your brain will be fresher.

The problems that you encounter when you're writing end up making you more creative. They force you to look for less obvious solutions and approaches. They force you to grow as a writer.

Instead of getting frustrated, you can approach them as puzzles. Embrace the challenge and write on.

Creative Writing Tips - Are You Doing It Wrong?

Students often ask me questions that all boil down to the same worry: Am I doing it wrong?

One student was worried because she has trouble writing fiction from an outline. Her writing flows better if it's spontaneous. When she forces herself to make an outline, she finds herself ignore it and taking the story in a different direction from what she had planned.

Is she doing it wrong?

Another student was worried because I had recommended following a regular writing schedule, trying to write at the same time every day. This doesn't work with his lifestyle. He finds it easier to write in the mornings on some days and in the evenings on others.

Is he doing it wrong?

The answer is that there's no right or wrong approach to writing. For example, let's look at what some successful novelists have to say on the subject of novel outlines.

"The more time I spend on the outline, the easier it is to write the book.” - John Grisham

"At the time I begin writing a novel, the last thing I want to do is follow a plot outline. To know too much at the start takes the pleasure out of discovering what the book is about."
- Elmore Leonard

"If you do enough planning before you start to write, there's no way you can have writer's block. I do a complete chapter by chapter outline."
- R. L. Stine

"When I start to write, I don't have any plan at all. I just wait for the story to come."
- Haruki Murakami

Every writer is different. You have to find what works for you.

The best way is to experiment. Try different approaches and see what gives you the best results.

And don't be too quick to reach a conclusion. Just because you don't feel comfortable writing with an outline, or don't feel comfortable writing WITHOUT one, doesn't mean that you can't learn to write to write in a new way.

Maybe another approach will work better for you. If not, you can still learn from the attempt.

Either way, you don't have to worry that you're doing it wrong.

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