My niece is a stunning adult with a classic style. But, when Osula was a child, she went through a fashion phase I might call, “if-you’ve-got it, wear-it.” The adults in her life held our breath until the stage passed.
At four years old, she liked to don a polka dot skirt, paired with a wildly printed shirt, horizontally striped tights, and finish everything off with an oversized, ugly fish medallion that hung to her waist. And you could not tell her she didn’t look good.
Although she outgrew that stage, sadly, many beginning writers haven’t, when it comes to their work. I hear aspiring writers announce that they are writing a novel, or crafting a screenplay, or halfway through their memoirs. No one outside of their friends and family has given them honest feedback and direction on their manuscript.
Apparently that happens with some contestants for American Idol: they audition on the basis of praises from those whose love blinds their judgment. The audience and judges listen to these performances, wondering how folks so tone deaf could consider themselves serious contenders with those who are talented, practiced, and prepared to compete.
I teach writers and edit their work. They pay me for impartial criticism and support. It’s the writers who write badly, but don’t take classes, or join rigorous writing critique groups, who baffle me.
Often a writer just needs to be alerted to a “tic,” a habit that’s crippling the manuscript. They may only need to be shown the tricks accomplished writers use to enliven their work and make it “rise up off the page.” I have students whose writing improves noticeably in just a few weeks. They simply hadn’t been aware of certain writing tactics before taking the classes.
So, why do so many beginning writers assume their work is the next bestseller? If they haven’t learned how to make dialogue sharp, how a scene is crafted, or a story is structured, or they don’t know basic grammar, their work is doomed to a silent death, even if they self-publish it.
Who would try to perform in a professional recital without taking classes, or expect to excel at a sport without intense coaching? So, why would anyone offer their book to the public, before learning the nuts and bolts of creative writing?
The competition to be published is brutal. We writers have to give our work every possible edge. That means learning and practicing the craft that supports our creativity and originality. There are no short cuts, unfortunately, or we’d all be using them!
Do you take your craft seriously enough to make a point of learning how it’s done by the published pros? Do you take writing classes, and if so, what worked and what didn’t?
If this post unsettled you, take a look at “Calm Down! It’s Just a Draft.”