Level up!

When you get told you’re not very good at something – in writing or in any field – you have two options. You can deny it and make excuses or you can turn around, take a good look at what you’ve done and make it better.

Sometimes criticism is incorrect. There are times when you should it brush aside and stand your ground. Unfortunately, it’s virtually impossible to separate the ego from the moment and so an immediate denial is rarely helpful. More often, the criticism is minor and so you can say ‘yup, you’ve got a point there, I’ll get that changed’ and move on without any great insight being gained. But if you go around exposing yourself often enough you should eventually be able to work out ‘themes’ of error (as well as some idea of what you’re good at) and how you respond to that is how you’ll be shaped as a writer.

Once you’ve realised you’re not very good at, say, dialogue, your choices are simple. You can avoid it: no direct speech in your novels, all reported, or action, or description. Or you can go away and work on your flaws and make your whole work better from that point on.

It should be obvious which the better line is. But there are instances where avoidance is the best option – if you’re working to a deadline, for example, or you’re so deep within a project that a major rewrite would break your heart. So side-stepping the stumbling-block may be a sensible approach.

But long-term the best way to become better at anything is to work out what’s causing you a problem and spend time specifically on that. That requires an external perspective, someone who’s not afraid to tell you when you’re not doing it right, and a willingness to accept criticism.

(By the way, time is your friend. No-one expects you to like criticism at the time it’s given; you’re allowed to be hurt, to feel misunderstood. Go away, kick the metaphorical cat around the room a bit, sulk, moan how no-one gets you. Then remember that the critics aren’t judging you but your work, and if they misunderstood something then it’s your fault for not making it clear.)

I’ve had it. I’ve learnt not to overuse swear-words (to keep them effective rather than for any sense of prudery), to keep dialogue fractured and roughly-hanging, to look again at how much description I provide. Now I’m beginning to feel like I don’t know how to use backstory. I’ve got it – in spades – but just how to bring it in..?

It’s really the action of writing that makes you a better writer; constant exposure to words, both the reading and creating thereof. But when you find you’re doing something badly – sub-optimally, at least – then you have the opportunity for an instant ‘level up’, a leap forwards in your chosen craft. To turn your back on criticism is to miss the opportunity to develop. Remember that most ‘work’ consists of reading books and thinking – of being mindful. And isn’t that what you do anyway?

Pick your moment, pick your area and pick your brains and the brains of others. That’s what writers do. And never stop moving forwards because you want to be the best you possibly can. Right?

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