Hello, back then

About two weeks ago I was working in one my favourite coffee shops when I noticed two people at a nearby table with a large manuscript. One of them was clearly mentoring the other. I went over and introduced myself as a fellow writer, and I was told the gentleman was having his work looked at for the first time ever. He had been writing in isolation, and he was having a hard time accepting feedback. I assured him this is natural, something we all experience. The poor man was so distraught, and it brought me back to my own first experiences of reading out loud, sharing, and receiving feedback.

I suggested he read Stephen King on Writing, because he talks about the two stages of writing, the first writing behind closed doors, the second letting the world in. He seemed very uncertain and I left with a feeling that despite our encouragement that this feeling of disillusionment is normal, he may withdraw.

It got me thinking about myself, and I wondered what advice I could have used most as an early writer. I think it would have been great to hear something like this: don’t take yourself too seriously. And by this, I don’t mean not to take my study of the craft less seriously, but to take the work itself, the product less seriously. With time and work there’s constant evolution and growth, and I think I wasn’t really aware of this. I was quite stuck thinking that I had to produce the best now, today, and in a way this was a barrier I was writing over.

How about you: what advice do you think you could have used at the beginning of your writing life?

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12 thoughts on “Hello, back then

  1. Touching and interesting story, Jennifer. The only advice I would have liked would have been: Keep writing, keep revising, keep reading, keep submitting, and keep living your life and learning from it. When I think of my “brilliant” early work compared to now, it makes me want to wretch. Being “older” has not made my writing any easier but it has made me appreciate the craft FAR MORE.

    • It’s funny, isn’t it, going back to older work? I’m actually doing just that at the moment, revamping my first ever novel, and wow, is it something!!
      In what way do you appreciate the craft more now thane before, tikiman?
      and yes, do keep writing!! πŸ™‚

  2. Oh, wow, do I remember that!

    When I was in middle school, I’d write until the story was perfect and then hand it over too my mom. When she said she loved it, I thought she was lying and told her I needed real feedback. When she did that, I thought she had no idea what she was talking about. I’m not sure there is any advice anyone could have told me (that I would have listened to at least) that would have helped me accept criticism.

    In college, I took several creative writing workshops. Being forced to take AND give criticism helped me step outside of my own writing.

    • I never took any lit classes in school (I was a science major) but I did take some local workshops – it was difficult at first, but became great. I think the most difficult part about feedback is knowing what to use and what to discard. And you’re right, it’s all about the timing of the advice – I probably wouldn;t have listened to myself either. lol

    • I had similar experiences when asking my mum for feedback. That’s why my advice would be not to ask your mum for constructive criticism. Try to find a writing buddy who doesn’t know you personally.

      • Agreed, Helen. My mom tries to give him great feedback, but I still think she has mommy goggles on even if she claims not to. lol
        I think the more diverse the beta readers the better for us.

  3. I do hope something you said filtered through that man’s dismay and will inspire him to keep writing.

    As for me, I wish someone had told me to write from the heart and edit with the head. In fact, I wish I would remember that every time I put my fingers on the keyboard.

    • Oh, yes, Linda, I love that one!! It’s one of the best things I ever learnt about writing. And so difficult to keep constant. I find even editing wants to be done from the heart, which is just not practical at all!!
      πŸ™‚

  4. “With time and work there’s constant evolution and growth.” This is excellent, Jennifer. I think in the beginning I didn’t understand that our writing improves overtime. Many people start out thinking their writing is much better than it actually is. I’m sure I was one of those writers.

    • Thanks, Laura πŸ™‚

      In the beginning I think I was kind of the same, but only while writing. When it was time to re-read I was always shocked at how much work it all needed, and I just realized it’s because the writing came so easily and natural. I never had to sit and think and work things through, it just happened. And because it was so efforless I assumed I was wriitng great. Until I reviewed my work, and I’m not talking years or months later, but sometimes just days or weeks. I know now that writing is divided into two parts, at least for me it is. The creation (the art) and the work (the craft).

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