You are Your Worst Critic

Valentine Month Editorial
by Deborah Owen
Why does everything you write have to be perfect? Why must you be your own worst critic? You sweat and stew over churning out one typewritten page until the pleasure is gone from that greatest of all gifts – writing.

Why do you write? Is it not for pleasure? Is it not to give voice to that which lies within? Is it not to lather words in and around your soul until they cannot be contained? And thus you ponder, pander and play with characters, disguising in anonymity the events, episodes and people from your own life until the whole bursts forth as a new found infant.

As a new mother labors to bring her baby into the world, you cannot deny that which refuses to leave… the desire to write. Love it. Nurture it. Move it up the line of priorities until you reap the satisfaction that calls to your heart. Learn the trade at  Creative Writing Institute  with a private tutor. Give yourself a Valentine present. You deserve it. Sign up today and start tonight!

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For Better or For Worse: The Long-Haul Love of Writing

by David Ebenbach, teacher at Georgetown University

Writing has been a constant love in my life. What has changed over the years is the way I’ve loved writing.

When I was a kid, we had an old manual typewriter. When I banged away on that typewriter, I was pretending to be a grown-up. As I sat happily clacking my way into scripts and stories and even a novel (eight pages long), writing became something like the idea of a girlfriend. Kids my age talked about girlfriends and boyfriends, and supposedly some of them even had girlfriends and boyfriends, but of course nobody really knew what they were talking about or was really serious about it. Writing was like that for me; I loved it, but it was mostly a game of pretend.

By the time I hit adolescence, my love of writing had become similarly adolescent. I had very romantic ideas about being a passionate, misunderstood writer, and filled my journal with manic bursts of poetry and self-examination. Story ideas ran wild through me the way infatuations did.

This wildness remained into college and a few years beyond, but, as I gained experience and wisdom, I saw hints of the possibility of constancy, of calm. I began to love writing in a more committed way, finding myself increasingly willing to stay with a piece, to revise it, and see it through.

The real turning point was my decision to enroll in Vermont College’s MFA program. It would be a major investment of time and resources, and would take me down a different path from the one I’d been traveling (pursuing a degree in Psychology). Given the enormity of the move, I made the decision soberly, but also with much joy, as though entering a marriage. It was not impetuous, but rather driven by a powerful, abiding love. I had spent years in the relationship, and I knew how I felt.

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Stop Laboring and Start Having Fun

by Dr. Helen Tucker

The word “labor” conjures up an image of work that demands great effort. Do you feel that your writing has begun to feel like this and that your muse has deserted you?  If so, then perhaps the following suggestions will help:

* Instead of sitting at your desk waiting for the words to magically appear, spend a whole day doing something completely different. It is easy to get into a rut and sometimes a change in routine is all that is needed.

* Forbid yourself to write for a few days. See a friend, do some strenuous exercise or just relax and spoil yourself.

* Wander through your favorite town and make a note of interesting people you meet, old inscriptions you read, and funny situations you encounter.

* Go for a walk and listen to the birds. Try to imagine what they are saying and build a story in your mind.

* Have coffee somewhere new and build stories about the people around you.

* Lie down on the grass, watch the clouds go by and let your mind wander.

* Rewrite the ending to your favorite book.

* Wherever you go, take a pen and paper and write down funny/interesting quotations you see. Try to include them in a poem or short story when you are stuck for ideas.

* Join a writer’s group.

The list could go on forever. Make a list of five things that would inspire you the next time you find yourself laboring over your writing and don’t forget that a regular change of routine or scenery may be all that you need to inspire you.

Don’t forget to ‘like’ us before you leave. For more great tips, sign up for The Writer’s Choice Newsletter (for free) at http://cwinst.com/newslettersignup.php.

Creative Writers Guilty of Murdering Babies

Rhetorical Homicide 

by Deborah Owen

When creative writers think of parenting, they normally think of someone biologically bearing a child, but there is more than one kind of parent. There is the unmarried parent, the divorced parent, the parent-to-be, the adoptive parent, to name a few. And then, there’s parenting the created word. Although it may not conjure up the same status as that of physical parenting, the labor is just as real.

Every writer knows their words are their babies, and heaven help the critic who says we should edit even more. Not only is it unforgivable, it cuts to the core of our being. This is one area where writers’ groups provide an invaluable service. There’s no better place to grow a thick skin than in a writer’s group. After all, would you rather hear stinging criticism from another newbie, or from an editor who runs over you with cleat shoes?

Be Your Own Toughest Critic

There is a simple trick to avoid this kind of literary suffering, and that is to murder your own babies. You will recognize the right babies to murder when the critic part of you cries out, “That doesn’t really fit,” and the author section cries out, “but I like it!” You know in your heart it’s time to pull out your scalpel and begin cutting. Although the wound will bleed, you will know you are maturing as a writer.

But far better than discarding the phrase altogether, copy, and drop it into a special file. One of these days, you will find the perfect place for that phrase.

The best time to murder your babies is when you edit for verbiage (wordiness). Learn to say the same thing in fewer words. Trim away the fat and leave only the lean. That means edit scenes, edit dialogue, and edit the plot in general. Brevity is the key ingredient that must stay. Say it with less. Say it better. Jazz your verbs.

Especially look for prepositional phrases. Whether you are writing fiction or nonfiction, you should never have more than three prepositional phrases to a sentence and not more than two in consecutive order.

Let’s be honest – all writers use padding. It is a little-thought-of procedure whereby we writers drag out a scene or dialogue – usually because we can’t find the right words or we’re having a bad time writing.

Have you ever seen a comedian who has his pulse on the audience and then makes the mistake of dragging a joke on… and on… and on… like a plane that can’t find a landing field? That’s a sure sign of someone enjoying their 15 minutes of fame and not wanting it to end. It’s the same thing with us writers. We have the audience in the palms of our hands and we hate to let them go. But let them go we must, because the readers need time to rest their minds so they can better absorb the chunks of meat they have yet to digest.

So the next time you’re editing, get the scalpel and bandages out. Prepare to dissect and dismember your baby. Although you may barely survive, your baby will be the better for it.

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Learning How to Deal with Rejection

You’re Not Alone

by Deborah Owen

Creative writers have a hard time dealing with criticism – constructive or otherwise. After all, our written words are our babies, and how dare anyone criticize or edit them! Right? Wrong. That is a beginner’s belief (and, of course, you may be a beginner). When you can ask for, receive, and apply constructive feedback, you have made the first huge leap to successful writing.

One of the best ways to do this is to join a writing club. There are dozens of them, but two of the best are writing.com (larger) and mywritersgroup.com (smaller). You can publish your stories on the site and let other writers read and rate them. Then it’s your turn to visit their port, read, and rate their articles.

Will anyone hurt your feelings? Probably. But what doesn’t kill you will make you stronger. And if anyone gets downright nasty with you, report him or her to the site’s headmaster. Rude critiques are never welcome on either of these sites, but once in a while it happens.

For example, many years ago I had one story that consistently drew a five star rating, but one day a woman rated it one star and wrote this message: “If you really want to be a good writer, you need to read good authors so you’ll know what good writing is. I rated your story one star only because I couldn’t rate it one-half star, but I admit I only read the first paragraph.”

I felt like a wooly worm, squished by a dump truck full of manure. I didn’t know I should have turned her in, so I licked my wounds and stayed quiet, but a supervisor happened by my site and saw the message. She told the headmaster, who wrote to the woman and banned her from ever reviewing anyone again. As for me, the damage was done. I didn’t accept another critique for a year, but I learned two things.

1 – Pay no attention to rude people with swollen heads.

2 – Write snappy first paragraphs!

A year later I received another critique which read, “I hope you’ll receive this critique in the spirit in which it is given as I only want to help you.” My defenses dropped like a rock. The point is – criticism can seriously wound a new writer – and genuine help can heal a wounded writer. To this day, I accept 95% of all critiques. At first I did it as an experiment, but when my ratings soared, I did it because I knew I was learning.

Dealing with rejection is a part of every writer’s life. Learn who to share your work with. Don’t let family members or friends (who are not published writers) read your work. They don’t know what they’re talking about and they’ll run over you rough shod. It’s much easier to learn from strangers.

When you try to sell your work, you’ll receive rejection slips. Keep them. I know one woman who made a collage out of hers and saved the middle space on her wall for her first acceptance slip.

Rejection is a continual learning process. Ultimately, you will either grow a thick hide or get out of the writing business.

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