Today, I’m going to hop up onto my soap box and discuss my favorite topic for writers at any level – Critique Partnering.
I have only been a writer for a few years now, but I can honestly say that there’s no better way to hone your craft than through the critique partner (CP) process. It’s a give and take. And, by that I mean you only get out of it what you put into it – both in terms of giving and receiving feedback. Allow me to break it down.
The art of giving feedback is important if you want to be a good critique partner. And it is an art, not a science. Remember, the person on the other end of the Ethernet connection from you believes strongly in their work. They’ve poured their heart and soul into it. They labored over it for months (maybe years). When writers send you their manuscript, it can feel like they’re offering up their first born. Handle it with care. Be respectful. Make sure your feedback is constructive – don’t just shred it so you can show off your editorial skills. That’s not what they need (unless, of course, that’s specifically what they ask you to do).
I always begin any new CP relationship by asking specifically what they are looking for in terms of feedback. Perhaps they’ve already received critical feedback and want to see if the changes they made are sufficient to address previously identified gaps. Or maybe they just want to know if it flows or if you can relate to the characters. These are all important nuggets that will help them be successful and that’s what it’s all about. It’s not about you. It’s about your CP. Make them feel good about themselves. I always try to start small – a few chapters max – then build up to a full manuscript if we have good chemistry.
The world has enough negativity in it – be a ray of sunshine for your CP. Even if you don’t feel it’s the best, remember, you’re only one person. Writing is subjective. What speaks to one person may not appeal to another. You are not judge and jury. But your CP may take your feedback that way. Find the good in it and set it up on a pedestal. Shine a giant spotlight on it. Help them celebrate how far they’ve come. Maybe you like the idea, but not the delivery. Maybe you like the story but don’t relate to the protagonist. Whatever it is, sing it from the rooftops, then get down to business.
Giving Negative Constructive Feedback
Most CPs are ready to receive negative feedback when they put their work in your hands. They’re asking for it, but many are not ready for the water to hit them in the face at firehose pressure. And that’s the reality. Their work is good, but good is the enemy of great and you want to help them be great. So what do you do?
Much of being a CP is relationship building. You need to figure out who you’re dealing with. Can they take harsh criticism? After all, if it doesn’t come from you, it will come from someone else down the line. Don’t set them up for failure. But don’t pull the ladder out from under them, either. There is a middle ground. And that middle ground begins and ends with respect.
Start with what they’re looking for. If it’s developmental feedback, give it to them. Start with the positive and end with the opportunities. Notice that I didn’t say “negative” feedback. That’s because there is no such thing. There’s positive feedback and opportunities to improve. Give both. Encourage, don’t discourage. That’s not your job. Life is full of disappointment. Don’t be the source of it for them.
When offering Opportunities to Improve, be honest and fair. If you don’t know something, admit it. They aren’t coming to you for your expertise. Chances are, you’re at a similar writing level. This isn’t the time to puff out your chest and knock someone else down to make yourself feel good. That’s not what the writing community is about. It’s a place for people to lift others up, to help others achieve their goals. Do your part.
Receiving feedback puts you, as the writer, on the receiving end of criticism. Hopefully, you outlined specifically what feedback you were looking for up front so that the response from your CP is the engine that propels you forward and not the anchor that pulls you down. Look through the feedback objectively. If you don’t understand what someone means, ask. After all, it’s for you and you alone.
If the feedback is harsh, sort through the words to derive meaning that will help you. Sometimes, feedback can be like the coach on the sideline who is always yelling at you. If you ignore the volume and listen to the words, you can mine helpful information from what is said. If you focus on the volume, you’ll tune out the words and gain less from the experience.
At its most basic level, a CP is a reader. There are bestsellers that people hate with a burning passion. Just because your book may appeal to one person doesn’t mean it has universal appeal. But criticism is what makes you better. Sure, having someone blow sunshine up your book spine feels good. But, if the agents aren’t waiting on your doorstep with offers of representation, chances are good that you have room to improve. If someone only has positive things to say about your book, that’s great, but beseech them to find 2-3 things that you can improve, no matter how small.
Likewise, remember that a CPs feedback is the opinion of one person. There is no universal standard for all books and there’s no single critique that will fix every hole in your manuscript. Read the feedback multiple times. Chew it multiple times before swallowing. If it upsets you, set it aside for 24 hours and come back to it. Remember, you don’t have to follow all of your CP’s suggestions. Only use the ones that you feel make your manuscript stronger. In the end, it’s your book. Your name (or your pen name) goes on the cover.
How Many CPs Do I Need? Where Do I Find a CP?
Unfortunately, there’s no number scale for CPs. It’s really up to you as the author. Remember, if you ask someone to find faults in your story, they will. Each CP will offer you something. You need to determine if the feedback makes your manuscript better or if it’s just a different perspective.
At some point, you will need to determine whether you require more feedback or if you are satisfied with the product. Some of this will depend on the type of feedback you are receiving. If multiple CPs suggest that you’re “telling” too much (instead of “showing”) or you are info-dumping or your characters are not relatable or you have plot inconsistencies, these are signs that you probably need more revision. If the feedback is consistently nitpicky and isn’t substantive in nature, you may be at a point where you can wrap it up and look to move on to the next phase.
Ultimately, it’s your call. Once you develop your CPs and figure out who consistently you gives you the most helpful feedback, you will have your core group of peeps to go back to time and time again. In order to keep them, you will have to be willing to put equal time into helping them along their writing journeys. My advice, find your tribe and work with them until you all reach your goals. After all, writing is a solitary activity, but you don’t have to go it alone. In fact, you’ll grow at a faster pace and your writing will improve immensely if you engage others along the way.
There are a number of writing communities out there to help you find your peeps. Peruse the writing communities on Twitter, especially leading up to one of the many mentoring contests. Pitch Wars, Author Mentor Match, RevPit, WriteMentor are a few that come to mind, but there are so many more. Twitter, FaceBook, Instagram are great resources to help you interact with writers at all levels. #CPMatch is another way to connect with potential CPs.
David Neuner is a licensed professional engineer with more than two decades of technical writing experience. Over the past several years, David has found his passion in fiction writing and continues to hone his craft through active involvement in several writing communities. David has written two full length novels – FEAR FACTORY, a science-fiction/thriller, and EVERYBODY I LOVE DIES, a dark young adult psychological thriller – and looks forward to a long writing career. David lives in Syracuse, NY with his wife Jennifer and triplet daughters Madison, Jessica, and Emily. @david_neuner
I didn’t fully understand the importance of the sometimes over the top emotions teenagers display. From extreme joy, to tears, to raging, screaming fury. It used to make me roll my eyes and tune out, until I started to piece together why it happens.
Once I started mentoring on a high school robotics team and made a point of truly listening to the teens on the team, did I figure out what it was all about.
Order out of chaos
As you read in many of the most popular YA books, when the world is in chaos, teens channel their anger, fear and frustration into figuring out how to make the world better. How to take the feeling of being powerless and take action to create the world as they feel it should be.
Teens in real life are no different. Their emotions, yes in part fueled by hormones, but not totally so, are a reaction to the world around them not conforming to what they expect.
And to make matters worse, soon they will have to find their place in that imperfect world and will be expected to participate and contribute, all the while conforming to the patterns they see around them. Patterns they’ve grown up with but question whenever they can.
Let it out
There is value in giving voice to the swirling frustrations, fears and emotions, even if only to let off the steam and find some peace. Sometimes it’s necessary to find where the boundaries are or who you can trust.
If you blow up and yell at your dad will he still take you to practice tomorrow? If you break down and cry your eyes out in front of your best friend, will she tell others what happened and embarrass you forever?
Should you keep that one secret, even if it’s wrong?
Up until about twenty or maybe 25 years ago, the YA stories were as they are now; teens struggling with a situation they didn’t see a way out of other than to reluctantly grow up. (Yes, an oversimplification.) Unrequited love, dangerous adventures, questionable relationships, etc.
What’s changed is that now the stories have a different kind of protagonist.
I think it may have all started with Harry Potter. The outsider who takes all his anger, frustration, pain and love, and fights for a better future. He doesn’t seem to accept defeat though. But in classic hero mythos, he is reluctant to take on the tasks bestowed on him.
From him we move on to Katness Everdeen and others who refuse to stand by and merely kick at the world.
The heroes we see in YA books now use the full rollercoaster of their teen emotions to insist on change. While they are still having hopeless crushes, loving – sometimes the wrong person – as if their lives depend on it, fighting for a place in the world, having big messy ugly-cry breakdowns and forging relationships they can depend on.
Real life catches up to fiction and I can’t help but wonder if the young people who are now taking to the streets and social media to demand a safer, more just society, were also, in some small way, inspired by the heroes of their books and movies.
Stories matter, they help us make sense of our world and help us to know we are not alone in what we feel. And that it’s okay to have those big emotions.
Writing is a way of life and when not working on a book or story – or maybe a translation – Lynn Hooghiemstra visits the real world to work as a marketing writer. She’s happiest surrounded by animals, books, paper and pens. She has a YA thriller finding its way in the world “Out in the Dark” under pen name Nicola Adams. And under her own name, a historical fiction featuring a 16-yr old girl trying to figure out life in WWII occupied Europe, “Tales from the Fountain Pen”.
Yesterday I was scrolling on Instagram (most likely between the hours of 11pm and 2am) and I stumbled across a buzzfeed post that said:
“Anyone else in their 20s, but feel like they’re running out of time to get their life together?”
Maybe it was the sleep deprivation, but this message hit me hard. Like, right in the feels. I just turned 24, and I feel like there’s this underlying pressure to have it all and have it NOW. If we’re in our 20s we have to be living our best lives, working on that side hustle, and rebelling against corporate America, all while maintaining perfect mental and physical health.
For me, this pressure to have it all while I’m still in my 20s is magnified by my innate need to be perfect. When I began pursuing my writing career, my perfectionism manifested itself in the form of re-reading and revising chapters, googling synonyms and shuffling sentences around in Word.
In my pursuit for perfection as an aspiring author, I quickly fell into a black hole of unrealistic expectations. No matter how many improvements I made to a MS, nothing was ever good enough. I was afraid to submit anything that I viewed as “imperfect” to a writing contest, or even ask for feedback, because I didn’t want others to judge me. I didn’t want my friends, my family, or the writing community to think less of me. My perfectionism reared its ugly head over and over again and became a huge roadblock to success.
Once I opened my mind and focused on the realities of life vs. the lies that my perfectionism told me, I started making some real progress:
My perfectionism tells me 30 is the end. If I don’t get published in my 20s, I’m a failure and might as well quit. I have to become a NYT bestselling author before I’m 30, otherwise it’s never gonna happen.
The truth is 30 is not old. Life does not stop when you turn 30. People will still read your books when you are 30. In fact, some of my favorite authors are 30 (or older) and they are thriving. I think the life experiences they’ve been able to gain along the way makes their writing even better and their stories more dynamic. The truth is, I can impact my readers at any age. What really matters is the story itself, not how old I am when I tell it.
My perfectionism tells me I can’t sub to a writing contest (especially not Pitch Wars) until my MS is perfect. It’ll never be ready until I’ve re-read every line.
The truth is What you write won’t be perfect. Especially not the first draft of a MS. Or even the second. And that’s okay. Have the courage to sub anyway. I think I hide behind my perfectionism out of fear. Fear that I won’t win, fear of feedback, fear that I’m not cut out for this. The truth is, if I let my perfectionism take hold, I will never be able to share my stories with the readers who need them the most. And that’s just a shame.
Even as I write this, I am re-reading it, scanning for errors. But in the spirit of letting go of a little piece of my perfectionism… I’m posting this as is. So, I hope that you feel encouraged to keep writing, in spite of your perfectionism. Tap into it when it pushes you towards greatness and fosters your creativity. But drown it out when you feel your expectations start to become unattainable. Remember, it can only get better from here. So, keep your eyes on the prize, friends. You are good enough.
Jordan Alexandria is a sci-fi/fantasy author who cannot go a day without a cup of tea and a walk outdoors. When she’s not writing novels or working as a HR manager, Jordan enjoys lifting weights, escaping in a good book, and traveling on crazy adventures. She moves around a lot for work, but dreams of settling down one day so she can finally own a garden of succulents. You can find Jordan Alexandria on FB, as well as IG and twitter @imjustjordan04.
Remember the days when you thought you knew everything? I’m not talking about when you were a teenager, I mean in your writing life. I remember those days fondly, where I sat at my laptop and forged ahead, unafraid of making mistakes, of using adverbs, of using the same descriptor for every character. Too many words, too little plot, not enough character development. It’s like being really young again. You don’t know you can get it wrong, so you aren’t afraid to try.
Many of the writers I’ve met along the way have told me to write dangerously. Get outside my comfort zone. Write about things that make me uncomfortable, things that make others uncomfortable. Tackle projects bigger than myself. Write the unknown. Read, read, read and learn, learn, learn.
What’s ironic about this advice, is that it often comes from someone terrified to heed their own words. I’m guilty of this. I’m the first person to tell someone, I believe in you, and also the first person not to believe in myself.
As writers, we have two choices, we can stagnate, stay comfortable in our little niche, or we can reach out and learn. But to truly learn, we must first make ourselves vulnerable to the fact that we don’t know it all. Aside from not knowing everything, trends in writing and publishing are constantly changing. What you knew ten years ago may no longer be relevant. There may be brilliance in learning something new. But only if you’re willing to put yourself out there and risk making mistakes. And, gasp, maybe get rejected.
Writers are a society of introverts. Consult your writer friends. I guarantee you 90% of them will tell you they’re introverted. They want to reach out, take a class, ask for help, but the thought of rejection keeps them rooted in place. So instead, they burrow down, safe in their own knowledge, where no one can tell them they’re wrong. And from their isolated safety, they shout their advice to others: Branch out! Take a chance! All with zero intention of doing it themselves.
Don’t be that writer. Don’t be the person who stagnates. Be the person who takes a chance. Be the writer who flourishes.
It’s impossible to know everything, but it’s not impossible to keep trying.
What chance will you take today?
If you need me, I’ll just be over here, heeding my own advice.
K.C. Karr writes about brave teenagers and unfortunate situations. As a former high school winterguard coach, she finds that young voices tell the best, most truthful stories. She’s been an editor, a social media director, and longtime member of the critique group Flint Area Writers. K.C. is currently working toward becoming a certified book coach through Author Accelerator and is a proud YA mentor in this year’s #WriteMentor contest. @kacimari
I’m in love with reading and writing. But my parents want me to be a musician, even though I am terrible at music. This has made my desire to be a writer diminish. What can I do to keep my dream going without my family’s support?
Dear Dreaming Jess,
What is most interesting to me about your question is that your parents are pushing you to be a musician, another creative and somewhat monetarily unstable profession, as opposed to, say, an accountant where monetary comfort is more likely an outcome.
Regardless, there are a lot of reasons why your parents might steer you away from writing. One of the reasons that comes to my mind is that at least as a fiction writer, success is not guaranteed. Even if you’re talented and hardworking, it can take a long time to arrive at a place where you are financially secure, and there is quite a bit of luck involved as well. These are valid concerns, and artists are continually trying to balance their need to create with their need to survive in a capitalist society that doesn’t necessarily value our artistic contributions unless they can be monetized and sold en masse.
That said, there are a lot of careers in the field of “reading and writing” that are more stable—library science, for example. Communications, advertising, public relations, education, and journalism are other examples. Storytelling is intrinsic to the human experience, which is to say there are several careers outside of “novelist” where you can make a decent living.
Regardless of your parents’ motivations or concerns, you may have to dig deep and reaffirm your commitment to your art so that your family realizes this is not something fleeting or fanciful. Oftentimes if a parent sees their child commit to something through action and not just words, they begin to come around. And if music is not your passion, I’d be as firm as possible in letting your parents know up front before you invest the time (and presumably the money) in trying to make it happen.
If it’s financial support you’re looking for, I would suggest continuing to nurse your passion in whatever ways you can. Perhaps it’s taking classes in creative writing and/or literature, even if that’s not your major study. Perhaps it’s writing in your own time without telling your family or joining an online writers’ group where you can begin to build a community that is supportive of your creative endeavors.
There may also come a time when you need to seek your independence, financially and/or emotionally, from your parents so that you can fully invest yourself in your dreams. You don’t need to have a degree in creative writing to become a great writer. Many of the skills needed to tell a great story can be self-taught and honed through practice, experience, and you guessed it, reading.
But there is another more universal aspect to your question which all of us creatives must face at some point in our lives: how do we place value on our art when it seems so many in our society do not?
There are a range of views on what artists should be willing to sacrifice for their art. It is a very personal decision that every artist must make for themselves. Sometimes it’s money, sometimes it’s relationships, sometimes it’s time. Hopefully, it is not your mental or bodily health. My personal view is that an artist who is “starving” or mentally unwell cannot maintain their creativity for long, and self-care is perhaps the most important thing you can do for yourself and your art.
So, Jess, don’t lose heart. Life is long, and if becoming a writer is your dream, then work toward it in whatever capacity you are able. Believe in yourself and find others who believe in you, too. And don’t measure your own success based on others. Each of our paths is unique, and what may seem like roadblocks initially can become achievements looking back.
Laura Lascarso is the author of several young adult novels including THE BRAVEST THING, which won a 2017 Rainbow Award for best gay contemporary romance and COUNTING BACKWARDS, which won a 2012 Florida Book Award gold medal for young adult literature. If you have a burning question about writing or publishing, please tweet @lauralascarso and include the tag #dearlaura
One of the fun things about attending conferences and workshops is that you get to talk to fellow writers. In so doing, you glean useful information about writing, publishing, marketing, and whatnot. You also learn one important fact about writers in general: no matter how splendidly their careers are going, they’re still not satisfied.
- Over this past year, here are some of the gripes I’ve heard:
One guy complained because of the relatively low royalty he received on a mass-market paperback that has sold over 100,000 copies to date.
- Another author had a beef with her publisher, who wouldn’t pay for all the conferences and conventions she wanted to attend.
- A duo were miffed because the most recent party they attended at George R. R. Martin’s house wasn’t that much fun.
I was looking at these people—all of them very nice people, by the way—and saying to myself, “Are you kidding me?”
But they weren’t. They were serious. Good as things were for them, they wanted things to be better. And I can guarantee you that if things did get better, they’d want them to be better still.
I asked one of my colleagues, a Psychology professor, why human beings so often seem dissatisfied with their lives. He theorized that it’s due to our evolutionary heritage: we’ve been successful as a species because our brains are designed to solve problems. But this adaptive advantage becomes a disadvantage when there’s no problem to solve, because then we make up imaginary problems to satisfy our brain’s biological imperatives. This made sense to me and explained the dissatisfaction I’ve felt at various points in my life.
This phenomenon has particular relevance for those writers—the vast majority of us—who remain at the less-than-bestseller level. We tell ourselves that if we could have what the famous writers have—wealth, comfort, security, movie deals, foreign rights, screaming fans—we’d be satisfied. But in most cases, we wouldn’t. We’d still want more.
With this in mind, I’m making a conscious effort to focus on what I do have as a writer, not on what I don’t. I have five published novels to date, with several others in various stages of the journey to publication. I have readers who like what I’ve written. I have invitations to talk at schools, opportunities to attend conferences and festivals. I have books with my name on the cover sitting on library shelves and people’s nightstands. I have a supportive agent, friends in the writing community, and no end of stories to tell.
No, I don’t have millions of dollars in the bank or millions of books in print. I don’t know George R. R. Martin and have no immediate plans to hang at his house. Neither do I expect to become one of those writers who can sit around and complain about how much fame sucks.
But if I ever do become one of those writers, can you do me a favor and knock some sense into me—or at least remind me to reread this blog post?
Joshua David Bellin has been writing novels since he was eight years old (though the first few were admittedly very short). He is the author of three YA science fiction novels: Survival Colony 9, Scavenger of Souls, and Freefall. Josh loves to read, watch movies, and spend time in Nature with his kids. Oh, yeah, and he likes monsters. Really scary monsters.
We all have our stories. In fact, we’ve pretty much lived for stories since we figured out how to communicate. One of my most treasured memories is sitting in the passenger seat of our beat up hatchback as a kid while my mom told me the story of how the goats were able to get across that dang bridge with the troll protecting it. Sometimes, if I was really lucky, she’d recap an episode of a show I was too young to stay up for.
That woman could build some tension, let me tell you.
In elementary school, I played “teacher” with my stuffed animals. Sometimes I would even force my friends to be my students (waves at the ones who still speak to me). When I was done “teaching,” I would sit at my old-fashioned, garage sale school desk and write stories. Words have always had power over me and, as I look back, I can see that even if I tried to move away from them, they always brought me back. In fact, if I really look, stories have been at the heart of everything I’ve ever been interested in.
In his book, Living Myth, Personal Meaning as a Way of Life, D. Stephenson Bond speaks of a core experience and how it “is the foundation of a personal myth.” He says the experience usually happens in adolescence or early adulthood but can occur at any time, and I’m willing to bet those car rides with my mom or the writing sessions at my desk are mine. We all have a personal myth, and we writers depend on ours to help us find and sustain our creativity well.
Most people see a myth as an ancient story told to some long-forgotten society to explain why things are the way they are. That’s not how I’m defining myth here. For our purposes, a myth is simply what we believe to be true, regardless of its factual value. There are many people in the depth psychology field who can explain it better than me. Or is it better than I? Meh, you get me. I. Ugh.
A personal myth moves beyond cultural and familial stories, although those play a part in how a personal myth develops. Even the mythology of a workplace, town, or group of friends influences how we create our myth. Look at it like a personal paradigm only we can see through. Let me illustrate with a popular myth.
A long time ago, Ancient Greeks and (eventually) Romans told a tale about this smokin’ hot dude called Narcissus. The Greeks told it one way, but I’m going to use Ovid’s version for our example. Anyway, this guy wasn’t just Khaleesi’s hubby/Aquaman hot. Flowers bloomed when he walked by. Girls swooned. Polar ice caps melted. His parents were understandably worried he’d grow up and pick some arm candy without a dowry, so they consulted the oracle, Tiresias, who told them he’d be fine as long as “he didn’t get to know himself.” Well, along comes Echo, a darling little wood nymph, as he’s walking through the forest one day. She takes one look at his beauty and falls madly in love. The poor child follows him around like a middle-schooler with a crush just repeating what he says until she ceases to exist.
He literally ghosted her.
An early feminist, the goddess Nemesis isn’t too pleased with Mr. Cutey-pants, so she allows him to Know Thyself. As he comes to a pond, he is enraptured with the beautiful image he sees reflected back to him, the image of himself. Alas, he perceived the gorgeous thing floating on top of the water as a beauty he couldn’t possess, so he killed himself. Some say he’s still staring at his reflection in the Styx.
I know, that’s all fine and good and you’ve heard it all before. So what does it have to do with creating our own myth? Two things, actually.
When Narcissus reaches the pond, he is thirsty and alone. Maybe even lonely. Dennis Slattery, in his book Riting Myth/Mythic Writing, reminds us that water is the only element of the four that allows reflection of what is in front of it or above it, but it requires a “stillness, both in the person and on the water’s surface.” Swiss Psychologist Carl Jung amplifies the water’s surface as a symbol for where our consciousness meets our unconscious.
Think about it.
We are aware of everything on and above the surface of water if we look around long enough to notice it. But underneath is an entirely new world. Jung argued that our unconscious harbored our deepest memories and experiences we’ve long since forgotten about; but they are there, forming what we do and how we think, even if we don’t know why. He says “whoever looks into the water sees his own image, but behind it living creatures loom deep…harmless, if only the lake weren’t haunted.” These shadowy images need not be haunted or even bad, but they do exist in the places we can’t see.
As writers, we study how people communicate their anger, desire, and every other emotion. But we do this through our own lens, like a goldfish sees its environment through the water without recognizing what he’s looking through. Like the fish, we can’t help it.
Looking at the surface, Narcissus sees his reflection, much as we see ourselves through the responses of others to our words and deeds. And nine times out of ten, we react in the same manner, grasping at what isn’t real or what we perceive to be the perfect versions of ourselves only to be disappointed when we come up all wet and empty handed. (I’m looking at you, social media.)
Writing, however, can be a way to examine our personal myths and express them in ways that resonate with others. I don’t know about you, but I internally scream “SAME!” or “WHY IS THIS ME?” a lot when I read books. We long to see ourselves in the Other, and stories help us do that.
To sum up, Narcissus often gets a bad rap because he became fixated on what he thought he couldn’t have. The truth is, he had what he longed for the entire time, he just looked for it “out there” when it was really with him the entire time. As writers, we have to embrace our personal myth and work it so we can tell a better story.
The kid riding in the car with her mom depends on it.
Deborah Maroulis is a mythographer who writes young adult novels and teaches literature, composition, and mythology at San Joaquin Delta College. She has a master’s degree in English and is pursuing her Ph.D. in mythological studies with an emphasis in depth psychology at Pacifica Graduate Institute. Her first novel, WITHIN AND WITHOUT, will debut in the spring of 2019 from Lakewater Press. She loves visiting schools and libraries and offering workshops inspiring students to read and write, all while having a little fun. You can contact her through her website, deborahmaroulis.com, and follow her on Twitter at @yaddathree.
“Write Every Day” is excellent advice.
I came to my writing habit five years ago, and I can clearly remember the first author event I attended with my new writer mindset. In the Q&A at the end someone in the audience asked for the author’s advice to writers, and the answer was, “Like many before me, my best advice is ‘write every day.’” Stephen King said it, Anne Lamott said it—but it really sunk in for me, hearing it from this author right in front of me.
My writing took off after that. I followed the advice and found my writing routine. Often it was just 20 minutes on my lunch break, but I put words down every single day. Even while working a demanding day job. I didn’t give myself the option to procrastinate, to skip a day—suddenly I had the better part of my first draft! I knew that if I ever published and got the honor to speak on my own author panel, I would give the best advice out there: “write every day.”
“Write every day”… except when you shouldn’t.
Then I started rehearsals for a play (I’m a freelance professional theatre director, directing one or two shows a year). When I’m in rehearsals, the play takes all my energy—besides the energy I must reserve for my day job. And life. My “write every day” commitment to myself became stressful. Each time I sat down to write, I felt like what I really should be doing is preparing for my next rehearsal. I realized that one part of my life was suffering because of my goal to keep at the writing. The play was just as important to me as writing, so I broke. My. Commitment.
I stopped writing every day.
The unexpected benefits.
My life became a little less crowded, and the play opened successfully. A week or so after the show closed, I felt the itch to be creative again. I didn’t need to wait for the next play rehearsal—I had my manuscript ready for me! I wondered if it would be difficult to get back to the “write every day” habit. It absolutely was not. I loved writing even more after a break. I discovered two unintended benefits of my writing break:
- It gave me perspective on my manuscript. After some weeks away, I saw the story with fresh eyes.
- My new life experience informed my writing.
The work that kept me away from writing was interesting and personally challenging, and that helped me to add new depth to my main character’s journey! I could use my experiences to improve my novel—experiences I might not have had if I were always writing. I found that “living every day” is a good alternative to “write every day” when it comes to crafting a novel.
When is it time to take a writing break?
If you always have a reason not to “write every day,” then you’re just not writing. How do you know when to break your writing routine? That’s going to be different for each person, but here are some questions that help me:
Do I look forward to writing time? For me, the answer better be yes four out of seven days a week.
Is something in my life suffering because of my writing time? The answer will probably always be yes, but…
Is the thing that’s suffering more important to me than my writing goals? This is difficult to figure out, but it’s an important question. My house being spotless is not more important to me than writing, but my relationships with my husband, family and close friends sure are.
Does my struggle with time for writing have an end date? If it’s a temporary time crunch it can be a writing break. If it’s your new normal, then you must evaluate if writing is a priority or if it’s bringing you joy.
Whatever works for you, please forgive yourself if you need a break! My writing advice: writing advice is not one size fits all!
Abbie Fine is a storyteller and nonprofit manager from Northern Virginia. THE LAST FIRST DAUGHTER is her first novel, but she has directed more than 20 professional theatre productions. Abbie added writing as a storytelling outlet in 2013 and hasn’t looked back.
Abbie works full-time as the Managing Director of NextStop Theatre Company, a professional theatre company in the Dulles Corridor. She loves serving this company whose mission is to present theatrical performances and educational programs that are uniquely ambitious, intimate, and accessible both to and for her community.
Abbie enjoys going to theatre, traveling—especially in the single engine airplane her husband pilots—hiking, teaching management, and of course, reading. She is an obsessive reader of fiction, particularly young adult fiction. www.abbiefine.com