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Everyone Starts Someplace

No matter the career path people pursue, they start off knowing next to nothing about it. Carpenters must learn how to pound nails. They may have watched every episode of a particular home improvement show, but until they gain the experience of actually doing it, they will hit the wood as much as the nails and half of those will be bent. The same is true in other professions. Initial exposure is a good grounding, but there is a difference between knowing a thing and knowing the experience of a thing.

This includes writing. It takes time to learn the nuances of the craft; language, characterization, dialog, plot, suspense, comedy, drama and so forth. We all begin by imitating the styles of writers we have read until we develop our own unique voices, much as art students copy masterpieces to get the feel of how the original artists captured light or expressed emotions. Through this process, writers accumulate techniques they will continue to use. They will also gain the perspective of experience to better understand what they want to say and how to say it. There are those who pop onto the art scene with works of brilliance, however, for most people, it can take years to master the craft of an art.

Even after reaching a professional level, you will discover that the process of learning never ends. There are always new things to discover. This requires a willingness to continually evaluate yourself as a writer and to examine critiques. They could come from other writers, professional development or a critique group. A major difference between professionals and beginners is the ability to override their egos, accept that everyone can improve and commit themselves to that improvement.

Effective critiques are a service and a gift. A good critique examines of how effectively themes or points are expressed and only covers the work. It is not a statement about the writer or a way for the person offering the critique to serve their ego at the expense of others. As such, effective critiques are respectful yet direct in their comments, pointing out what worked and what didn't. Rather than trying to change an author's intention or themes, critiques should cover how effectively the writing expressed the themes and offer suggestions to make the themes more comprehensible. When writers examine critiques about their works, they can gain a better understanding of how to best communicate to readers, though no one is bound to take any suggestions if they feel they want something to be presented in a specific way.

Some new writers can be hypersensitive about critiques. Even respectful suggestions may be considered personal attacks. They may think of their stories as their babies and each word their blood on the page. I have actually heard these words used in writing groups. Some writers might say that their mother liked their manuscript or their friends enjoyed it. These attitudes are a great impediment to becoming a professional writer. Mothers like everything about their children and friends may not want to point out faults. Writers must look to people involved in writing who are willing to comment on how effective their work is. They must also separate their own egos from the work and realize that it is just a piece of writing that does or does not express what was intended. If it doesn't, it must be changed.

Many beginning writers fear that they will run out of material and must jealously guard what they have written by never removing anything. In truth, authors have an inexhaustible source of new ideas that they can draw on by just sitting down, writing them out, seeing how they read, and following threads that are suggested by the material. I threw out five times as much text as what was published in the final manuscript of my first book. Entire characters, cultures, locations and plot lines were removed because they did not serve the story or character development. I was always able to create new martial that did tell the story I intended.

Apprentice carpenters begin in near ignorance. They get experience on the job, go to training courses and proceed through the ranks to become master carpenters. There is no shame in not knowing everything at first, but we humans are impatient, even more so in this wired world. We must all be willing to swallow our egos long enough to study our own work and listen to others in the profession to become masters.


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