A couple of weeks ago, I had the opportunity to join my critique group in a discussion at our local library. At the end, we were asked if we had one final piece of advice. I had the fortune of going last (aka more time to think) and came up with this:
Open Your Eyes
I’ve been an avid reader my whole life. But there was something strange that was happening when I first started writing: the voice of my adult characters was off. Pacing was off. Development was off. It took me a long time to realize the problem, but it ended up being I was reading lots and lots of YA novels to recommend to my students, and what I was trying to create was mirroring what I was putting into my mind.
I had to open my eyes to the genre I was writing. I had to reach beyond the comfort zone of my reading habits and really learn from the great works of women’s fiction.
As soon as I shifted my reading to be more intentional for what I wanted to accomplish, the difficulty I’d experienced in making my characters sound age appropriate, in making them have unique and individual voices, in hitting the complicated emotional markers all started to fade to the background.
Don’t get me wrong, there are still a gazillion million things that I struggle with in my writing. But making sure that I am filling my creative pitcher with words similar to the kind I’d like to pour out into my manuscript makes writing easier. Sure, I still dabble from time to time in different kinds of fiction, like a kind of mental dessert, but I am very mindful that the main course is representative of what I’d like to create.
Put Your Blinders On
If you’ve been writing for very long at all, it’s very likely that you have become incredibly aware of the pacing of other writers – how quickly they create words, how their querying process unfolded, the amount of time spent getting ready for or being on submission, how many “Want to Read” markers they have on Goodreads, how many reviews they have, how many five star reviews they have, etc. etc. etc.
Even the most mentally stable person could lose their sanity foundation if they allowed themselves to take in experiences of others too much. Sure, we may start out by saying it’s educational to know how things work for other people, and to some extent that may be true. But there is a real danger in looking at the experiences of others, the greatest of which is that this is the surest way to welcome in the creative devil himself, Doubt.
Looking at the numbers for someone else does nothing for the work you are trying to create for yourself. Looking at the speed of others success does not strengthen your own writing. Wondering why success hit one person over another provides no benefit to your own craft, characterization, determination, drive, love or passion for what you are trying to create.
When you put blinders on a horse, you are not blinding them. You are simply saying, “I need you to look forward. Don’t get distracted by all the lovely things off to the side because you’ll end up traveling that way and that’s not where we want to go.” This is the same for writers. Ask yourself two questions:
- What is your goal – for the next month? Six months? Year? Five years? Decade?
- What is the road you need to be on to get there?
You may hear of things off of your road that are interesting, that try to capture your attention, that may even startle you. You can acknowledge there are things, but keep your eyes looking toward your goal and put a little trust in the people who know where you want to go because they will help you stay on track.
Do you have suggestions on how to improve your writing? How about tips and tricks you utilize to help reach your desired goals?
Tasha Seegmiller is a mom to three kids and coordinator of the project-based learning center (EDGE) at Southern Utah University. She writes contemporary women’s fiction with a hint of magic, and thrives on Diet Coke, chocolate and cinnamon bears. She is a co-founder and the managing editor for the Thinking Through Our Fingers blog as well as the Women’s Fiction Writers Association quarterly magazine, where she also serves as a board member. Tasha is represented by Annelise Robey of the Jane Rotrosen Agency.