Therese Walsh at the Writer Unboxed blog has some great tips to keep in mind as you work on your novel. In this post, Be Extraordinary, she lists five things to do, or attitudes to have, but a couple of them really struck me because they resonate with my own experience.
Her points #3 and #4 – Check your ego at the door, but not your gut – combine into one of those experiences. Walsh talks about being vulnerable enough to accept critique (checking your ego at the door), yet recognizing that some of that critique can lead to solutions for your writing, plot, or characters.
That happened to me a few years ago during a novel-writing workshop. After reading my first chapter or two, the other participants said that Peter, my main character seemed awfully…bland. He didn’t have much life to him. I found him quite interesting, and yet I could see that they were right.
I was gloomy for a couple of days, not sure how I could spice the guy up. But suddenly I thought, “What if his emotional blandness was part of the story?” It occurred to me that Peter was probably emotionally shut down for a reason. And it probably involved his twin brother, and it was probably because of something that had happened in their childhood.
At that point, the ideas rushed in, and in one morning I had at least half the plot for the entire first half of the novel, and the seeds of the rest of it. The critique my fellow workshoppers had given me had helped elevate the novel into something much more interesting and active than it had been.
So even if it’s very hard to take criticism, try to leave your ego at the door, as Ms. Walsh suggests, and use justified criticism to better your writing.
Another way to better your writing is more pleasant. As Walsh says in point #5, “Learn, baby, learn.” She suggests things like reading books about the craft of writing, or even taking classes. I agree with those suggestions, and have a couple more. The first is to learn to write grammatically. If you can’t put a sentence together in a readable way, no one will want to read it.
Another way of learning is as you read other writers. Pay attention to their style and how they put their words together. Figure out what you like or dislike. Absorb the good writing, and let it percolate into your subconscious. Incorporate writing elements that seem to fit your own style, effectively widening your range.
Many important keys to improving your writing can be summed up in two words: pay attention. Absorb everything and use it to your advantage. It doesn’t have to be torture, but can really be quite productive.