I’ve seen some dramatic improvement in my writing skill over the last year or year and a half, and I’ve worked pretty hard to improve my prose.
Now, granted – nothing improves like practice, be it golf, poker, sex or writing. Still, learning new aspects and putting them into practice helps too. I learned a lot about writing from other writers early on, and took a couple of tail spin plummets into “I stink at this” along the way, but in the end I always managed to get wind back under my wings and climb to new, higher heights.
Stephen King’s heavy influence on my adverb-sparse writing forced me to take perhaps the biggest step forward. While I don’t exercise adverb-control here in my blog posts, I find myself automatically cutting them and rewording sentences on the fly when I’m writing fiction prose. Ernest Hemingway’s maxims about short, punchy sentences goes far with me, though I have varying degrees of success working with those. (Something I hope to remedy as I go forward, actually, and will be targeting specifically in my next piece.)
Initially, my writing was adverb-heavy and my word choices weak. The first writer to point out my dependence on modifiers also gave me bum advice (she told me it was ADJECTIVES which were to be avoided, not ADVERBS), but the point carried through. And I learned a lot about offering writers feedback from my buddy Sherri over the time I’ve known her. She’s now editing for a company on a contractual basis, and she knows from whence she speaks.
I picked up a lot from the first self-editing book I ever read too. Not as much from the first plotting book I read, though; the author lost me in his explanations of things.
But lately, I’ve found myself unable to find much on the ‘Net about writing I haven’t either read already somewhere else, and I don’t find as much value in the input and feedback I’ve gotten lately as I used to. I’m not sure why. It feels arrogant and at the same time scary. I have so much left to learn – so very much – and I know that, but I’m having the worst time taking another step forward.
I’m on a plateau, which frightens me, because I feel I have to get better. I mean, this can’t be the top of my game, the best I’ll ever be … can it?
On my deviantART page, I get a lot of encouragement and accolades about my work. It’s a nice feeling. Occasionally, I get a “critique” from someone who takes the work -by-line and points out areas they don’t like, or which could be improved. It hasn’t happened very often but when it does, I’m always grateful. Problem is, about 90% or more of what they say makes me chuckle and shake my head. I’m pretty dismissive of the input, depending on who’s providing it. From some, I’m grateful to listen, to act upon the advice they give, and feel the story’s improved. From others … not so much.
Overall, though, I’m starting to see the value of a few trusted beta readers and I’m becoming pretty dismissive of “critique” from anyone else.
At the same time, I’m scared to put my work into the hands of the people who are the self-designated gatekeepers of literature. I’m afraid it’s not good enough – I’m not good enough – and the thought of being told I still have miles to go (I do) makes me shy away and hold back in fear, worrying over how to get better.
I’m very secure and yet … insecure. I have confident insecurity.
Is this a common thing to all writers? Is there ever a point at which the insecure part goes away and the confidence remains? Are we doomed to stagnation if we do? And how does one go about improving prose, getting stronger and better? How do we develop our style as writers? Is it really just a matter of throwing more words out of our heads over and over and over? It seems to me that won’t work if we’re not somehow getting new ways and means to state the things we want to say in better, clearer, more descriptive, more artful, more [insert whatever you go for here]. Or is this where talent separates writers from wannabes?
Writers, what do you think? Am I off my rocker, or do you only really accept input from a select few? Are your critics who matter a specially defined group or are you open to hearing from pretty much anyone about your work?
Sound off, writerlies. I’m genuinely worried.
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