What I’ve Learned About Writing

Posted: August 16, 2016 in fiction, science fiction, webcomic, Writing
Tags: , ,

To cite a common quote, a writer writes. Period. You don’t need to be published to be a writer, just write every day or most days. Carve out your time to write (early morning, late night, during commute, while kids are at school, etc.). Find a good place to write free of distractions (office, library, closet, train, wherever). Write for that time no matter what even if it’s rambling, nonsense junk, even if you’re tired or depressed. Start writing. It’s almost always easier to keep going once you’ve started.

Keep a pen and paper with you at all times. You never know when inspiration will strike.

Start out small: a short story, poem, whatever. Do these until you feel ready for something larger. When you try something larger, more ambitious, if it doesn’t work out, move on to something else.

Don’t expect perfection to flow onto page with first pen/keystroke. It will mostly suck. Your goal is to get words on page. Maybe 10%, 20%, 30% will be worth keeping. That is your raw material. Creativity made real. Your conscious and unconscious extracted.

Don’t edit when writing your first draft- just write. Punctuation? Not important. Spelling? Not important. What I just wrote is horrible—also not important! Just focus on putting down the next sentence, then another until your time is up or your brain is mush. Ursula Le Guin has some good tips along these lines.

Once your draft is more or less complete, you will edit and edit again and again. You are a smith hammering a slab of hot iron over and over until it becomes a razor-sharp sword. You are a jeweler carving a gem from a rough hunk of crystal one facet at a time. If it’s not good, make it good. Rewrite until it’s good (but not perfect).

Once you’re done editing, get it critiqued. A critique group is better than friends, family, etc. (look online for critique groups—I like Critters.org) Don’t take all the comments at face value. Look for good points you agree with (assuming you’re open to constructive criticism which you should be if you want to improve). Similar comments from multiple people may have merit even if you don’t agree. Edit again.

Consumers/audiences/readers/viewers are starved for new stories and can suspend their disbelief. In other words, they can be forgiving (caveat: to be successful you should try to make your work as good as possible to remove as many potential distractions as you can to make that suspension of disbelief as easy for them as possible). For example, when I started watching the show Farscape, I was put off by some of the characters being puppets. But I was bored, I kept watching, and eventually I stopped even noticing the puppets were puppets. I had consciously and/or unconsciously decided it wasn’t important, it wasn’t an obstacle for my enjoying the show. And of course, their puppet effects got better over time.

You’re allowed to get better. In other words, you don’t have to be amazing to start writing or for people to enjoy your work. For many of my favorite webcomics (for example, Vattu, Strong Female Protagonist, and Gunnerkrigg Court), I’ve watched as the art steadily improved over time, but the audience began growing from the very beginning. That being said, my impression as a writer is readers tend to be somewhat less forgiving. Before putting your work out there, hone your skills until you at least get more positive feedback than otherwise.

When you’re ready—when you have a completed short story or novel you’re proud of that’s been critiqued (and, for novels at least, edited), submit it to a market or self-publish on-line (Amazon, Smashwords, etc.). If your work is good, there will be an audience for it out there even if the established gatekeepers (editors, publishers) reject it. All my stories have been rejected multiple times (Lonely, Lonely was rejected 7 times before being accepted and Space Tagger 10 times). Many famous authors have similar stories of numerous rejections for what were ultimately very successful books. The gatekeepers are people with money to buy art, but that doesn’t mean their choices represent what all consumers want—they represent just a fraction of all potential consumers. Today, the gatekeepers aren’t your only option. Even as an unknown author just starting out, I feel safe in saying it’s not easy, but you can reach your audience if you try hard enough (more on that later).

  1. I hadn’t heard about online critique groups – thank you!


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