Dear Writer

Dear Writer (including myself),

There’s a time for doing and a time for musing. I say, right now seems like a good time for musing, so let’s do it. Writing is a joy and a discipline and there are just a couple of things I’ve learnt along my journey. The best bit? There is so much more to learn!

1. Focus
To get anything worthwhile done, we need to focus on our craft. We need to focus on our stories. More than ever before, this can be challenging for writers.

Emails to reply to, texts, phone calls, dinner to make, Internet banking, online newspapers, an endless Facebook home screen to scroll down from, ding – someone likes your photo on Instagram, a coffee at a nearby cafe calling your name (actually let’s leave that out, coffee and writing can be the best of friends!) and research: there are so many things that compete for our attention. That takes our attention which is deserved on writing.

And research: this is a subtle/sneaky one! It’s such an important part of the writing process but it’s something good which can also be a distraction. Especially, when writing an article due that afternoon. It’s quite easy to justify, too: “I’m researching my story.”, “I need to log back into Facebook and check something. And again. And again.”, “Let me just watch a few Youtube videos on it, first.” and so on. These things can be helpful, but when deadlines are involved, the writing aspect is paramount.

I have learnt to restrict myself in research and limit my time doing it, hard as it can be at times. It’s like opening a packet of chips: you just want to keep going, keep going, keep learning, oh my is the whole pack gone already?!

Coffee and Writing: the best of friends
Coffee and Writing: the best of friends

2. Feedback
At university, I took a short stories subject. Every week, we would take turns workshopping a couple of students’ stories. Ten, fifteen students plus the teacher would join in, giving their feedback on someone’s story in progress.

This involved: how it could have been improved (suggestions), why it worked, why it didn’t work, why someone didn’t get it and why someone did. To some, a piece was abstract: intriguing. To others, a piece was abstract: confusing. Whatever the outcomes, this was where I learnt to give (and take) feedback which was also referred to ‘constructive criticism’.
I learnt not to be shocked when someone didn’t like my work and when they did; I learnt there was a heck of lot that could be improved. There was always, for everyone, something to be proud of even it that just be an original concept.

Doing this taught us that feedback (and especially negative) was no big deal but an essential part of the writing process.

I know that this has helped me a lot in my professional writing career. It means I’m not shocked when an editor or agency requests a rewrite or change. Writing is such a subjective thing and it’s probably rarer than a dog-loving cat to hit the proverbial nail on the head every time. And, it means that it’s particularly nice when you do! (Although, my cat is no fan of dogs, I’m sure of it!)

Take feedback humbly, give feedback graciously (like you would want to hear it) and remember that without feedback, we can’t grow. Be balanced when giving feedback: show the excellent and the CBC (could be changed?) in your review. Check yourself if you find yourself feeling ‘offended’ over receiving feedback, particularly if it’s for smaller things. And remember, you don’t have to take the feedback on board: just consider it.

3. Rewriting
Disclaimer: here’s the part where we all want to back away and hide in a corner. 

I have found out what really goes on when you work as a writer: rewriting. I am still rewriting my first novel, which I finished in a happy flurry almost three years ago. Granted, I took some long breaks in between editing due to some paralysing manuphobia (fear of one’s manuscript, should be a word if it’s not already) but I know that this process will improve over time.

Rewriting is a muscle that all writers need to exercise and there’s no getting around it: I have discovered this!

So, as a mother will say to a little kid who’s more interested in the ice-cream tub than the leftover vegetables on the plate: “Eat your greens and then you can have dessert.”

She’s right.There’s no publication without rewriting. Why? Because rewriting is just another word for refining, and it’s an essential ingredient which takes a piece of writing – whether it be an article or story – from great to excellent, zero to hero, good to yakagooglyamazingpie (my own word, it’s still in the test stage.)

So let us all eat our vegetables, myself included.

4. Thick Skin
See point 2.

Yes, my dear writers and myself too, our skin needs to be as thick as an elephant’s when it comes to submitting our work.

Sometimes it will be accepted, sometimes rejected. Sometimes people will understand your story, sometimes not. But all this doesn’t matter: success will come eventually if you have a thick skin and continue to ‘soldier’ on with sending our work out there. What do you have to lose? What do I have to lose? What do we have to lose? Absolutely nothing, and in fact much to gain! But to do this, you will need…

5. Courage
Courage, courage, courage: an essential quality for any writer. It wasn’t taught at university but that doesn’t matter as research* has shown that courage is naturally found within ourselves and available to all if we wish to find it.

The blank page awaits
“But no one except Lucy knew that as it circled the mast it had whispered to her, “Courage, dear heart,” and the voice, she felt sure, was Aslan’s, and with the voice a delicious smell breathed in her face.” – C.S. Lewis

As writers, we need courage to write. Courage to share it with our loved ones or through a blog, whatever works for you. Courage to continue on when it feels like the hardest thing in the world. Courage to continue on when you doubt yourself. Courage to log off Facebook and bring up Microsoft Word. Courage to submit our work out there. We also courage to stand by our story when it’s held up for scrutiny.  But most of all, we need courage to step into our dreams.

May you be a focussed, feedback-happy, rewriting, thick skinned and courageous writer!

*My own research, based on observation and the human experience.

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