Balancing Act

ImageWriting stories is a psychological balancing act that is not easily reconciled.

On one hand, it is an internal drive to create.

On the other, there is an external need to entertain others.

We write stories that come from our imagination and experience and it is natural to want to share that with others. But it begs the question of how much validation do we need from others in order to consider ourselves a success?

That is something that I cannot answer for others, though I have some recommendations.

First off. Focus on the craft. Writing is not just the story. It is grammar, sentence structure, spelling, wordsmithing, characterization, continuity, plot, tension, visual presentation, and so on. Each of these can be broken down even further. In fact we can continue drilling down until we find ourselves in a miasma of perfectionism that is simply impossible to recover from.

Understand that this is a craft, not a . . . ur . . . paint by number. If you are just beginning, I would strongly recommend that you neither attempt to write the next bestselling novel nor think you have. The key is beginning. And continuing. And continuing. Like everything in our lives, it is something that gets better over time the more we practice it. If we don’t, it doesn’t.

The story is yours. The idea is yours. Learn how to tell it; learn all the techniques to tell it. You do this by reading, not only stories, but how to write them. If you can take classes, do so.

This is where the balancing act begins. In order to get better, you need outside assistance. That means . . . gasp . . . showing our stuff to others. As I’ve said before, the act of writing is a very personal endeavor. I think there is a lot of evidence out there that this also based out of a sense of insecurity for most. (I think there is a distinct difference here between fiction and nonfiction writing. Fiction being the more personal.)

At any rate, you have to put your work out there for others to judge.

Yes, judge.

Friends and family are typically the first places we show our work. Just keep in mind that our social units are not exceptional places to start because of bias and convention. For instance, my mother, being the supportive person she was, couldn’t say anything negative. While this is helpful for the ego side of writing, it didn’t help with my actual storytelling. My father, on the other hand, who, by the way was an avid reader of historical fiction, was the opposite. For him, writing was a hobby that should always be relegated below all the other priorities in my life.

Generally speaking, your friends and family do not know anything about the craft itself, so are not helpful in this vein. They may be a good support network, but I tend to think that true writers cannot quit.

English teachers are a natural place to explore. I have to confess that English, while being one of my best subjects, was also one of the most boring when I was in high school and again in college. Most English teachers I know have apoplectic fits when reading some of my work. Why? Because the rules of standardized English generally make for dry reading.

However, pay attention. This is where you get the best education on mechanics of writing. First, learn the rules of grammar. Then figure out which ones to break when writing creatively.

Other writers can either be a boon, or a boondoggle.

So, what to do?

First, separate yourself from your work. This is hugely difficult because of the nature of the work, but it has to be separated. Learn to look at your work through your own critical eye. Learn the mechanics, identify them and be able to change or edit them as needed. This is perhaps one of the most important and most difficult. And you’ll never be able to fully do it, but make the best of it.

Second, learn to take the criticisms. This is the hardest part, but a necessary part. Be courageous in getting rejected. In fact, look for rejection, if you are brave enough. If you are learning the first thing, then this will be easier. Because I will let you in on a little secret. When you share your work, you will find 50 million people that think they know better how to write your story. Some of them will. Many won’t. And this number will change the more you practice. The more you are able to look critically at your own work, the faster you will be able to identify those that are most helpful.

Your writing begins and ends with you. Ultimately, you have to decide on what you put into it.

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