When I tell people that I’m working towards a professional career as a writer, I often get this sort of response from other people who want to be a writer/want to write a book:
“Dude! That’s what I want to do! How are you doing that?!”
“That’s my dream, but I don’t have the time.”
“Oh, I’m a writer too, but my stuff is just too much/too good/too innovative for the industry.
I’ve heard these kinds of comments from people I’ve met at writing groups, writing communities and other spaces that involve creative minds.
When I ask about what they are writing or what they are working on they seem to share it with me with 1 of 3 attitudes:
1. They either are too worried or too self critical to have written much and therefore they’ve self-sabotaged to the point they never finish or never start
2. They share a completed story/script and they aren’t open to any constructive criticism. They deem the document perfect as is and want no feedback.
3. They have several excuses why they don’t have time to write.
I think all of these attitudes have one thing in common. A fear of failure.
One person never finishes because they fear once they finish, someone might read it and realize they’ve failed. The second isn’t open to criticism because that is someone saying they’ve failed. The third isn’t even going to give themselves any opportunity to fail.
Just like anything else, if you want to get better at writing, there is some failure involved. The trick? Is to fail better.
What does fail better mean?
It means you seek outside feedback and you work to improve your craft. It means practicing telling your inner editor to hush as you write. NaNoWriMo is a great way to get some practice in. You’ve got 1,667 words to write every day during Nano, you don’t have time to argue with your inner editor, you have a story to write.
If you find that you really can’t get your inner editor to shut up, there are services like Ilys.com, which doesn’t allow you to see what you’re typing. It basically prevents your inner editor from doing anything until you’ve reached a certain word count. They have a free trail period, so it’s definitely worth checking out if you can’t get your inner editor to shut up.
Feedback and Constructive Criticism are important part of failing better
Share your writing with groups that you trust and listen carefully to their feedback. Change the things they suggest if you feel like it works for you story, and watch for patterns of things you might often make errors on. On of my go to reviewers is my good friend and in the first several pieces I shared with her, she commented on my description and the fact that some of my characters lacked depth in their perspective.
Her input helped me see areas that I really needed to work on. I may have failed, but I had the chance to fix my draft work before I submitted it. Feedback can sting, but it’s better to clean up the work and improve it, then to never get better, isn’t it?
Give feedback, get feedback
Reading and reviewing the writing of others will also help you improve your work. You might find things in their work you want to do in your own work or things you want to avoid.
I once had a fellow writer who was really excited to share his work with me. He sent me a piece filled with spelling errors and when I tried to give him feedback about it, he kept telling me he didn’t care about the errors, he wanted to know what I “really thought.” After further conversation about his work, it became fairly clear to me that he didn’t really want feedback, he wanted praise. He believed his work was already on par with the professional work out there, and that despite that, people in the industry were actively ignoring him.
If someone doesn’t want feedback, you can’t help them improve. You can only use it as an opportunity to improve your own writing.
The errors were so distracting to me, I had a difficult time getting through the piece of writing, and that was my main feedback. I wanted to be excited about his work, but from that point on I did not want to read pieces for him, because I knew my feedback would not help him.
I did learn that I needed to be careful about my spelling. If I didn’t want to read a piece riddled with errors, I doubt an editor is going to want to.
I’ll end with one of my favorite quotes by Samuel Beckett:
Now go out there and fail better!