Learn How To Take Criticism

When you set out to write, one of the best things for you to learn is how to take criticism. To do that, you need to listen and take notes. Hear what’s being said and understand if and how it’s applicable to not just what you’re writing, but how you write. Use the criticism to become a better writer, but be careful of the source.

Early in my career (back before everyone had computers), I was looking for a job and had sent out resumes by mail. One person sent it back, having circled all the errors. No other comments were made though. I was younger and hurt by the situation, instead of seeing it for what it was: someone with too much time on their hands.

Contrast that to when I was writing my second book. I asked my sister to read and comment on it. And she did. She had plenty to say and not all of it was good. I had to rewrite several portions of the book. But here’s the thing, I’ve been able to use her comments not just for that book, but for the subsequent ones I have written. I’ve become a better writer because of her critiques.

So be mindful of what is being said and by whom. And if the commentator is sincere, embrace the critiques and use them to better yourself and your craft.

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Everyone has a story tell. How you do so is up to you. But if you plan on writing it as memoir, here are a few tips to help you:

Define your theme. Ask yourself: What will readers take away from my story? What will they learn from reading it? Common themes include lessons about accepting change, dealing with loss, overcoming addiction, surviving abuse, impressions from an era, valuing friendships and relationships.

Look at it from a distance and put it into the shape of a story. Take time to outline your story. Use a timeline. You don’t have to start on the day of your birth. Focus on an event, or series of events, and interweave the theme through it. Leave out scenes that don’t add to the flow of the narrative.

Don’t concern yourself about other people’s feelings. Remember, you are telling your story, your truth. While you cannot slander people, you can tell your side of what happened to you.

Lastly and most importantly, if you’re taking the time to write it, take the time to learn the art of storytelling so you can tell your story well. Learn how to show and how to tell. Learn how to re-create yourself as a character. Learn how to write dialogue, plot scenes and sequels, and how to describe what happened to you. It’s a small price that will yield a high return–your audience finding themselves in your story.

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For the writer, journaling is a great way to get the creative juices flowing. It helps in the development of strong, written communication; it helps improve memory, makes learning easier and helps improve your reading skills. It also encourages the exploration of language: you’ll find the yourself searching for new words and increasing your vocabulary, which is one of the best measures of overall intelligence.

But did you know there are also psychological benefits to journaling? Regular journaling strengthens immune cells, called T-lymphocytes. Other research indicates that journaling decreases the symptoms of asthma and rheumatoid arthritis. Writing about stressful events helps you come to terms with them, thus reducing the impact of these stressors on your physical health. It helps bring out peace of mind and a calm state of being. Anne Frank wrote: I can shake off everything as I write; my sorrows disappear, my courage is reborn. 

Through writing, both right-and left-brain hemispheres communicate, synthesizing information that ultimately results in greater mental coherence. Starting a journal is pretty easy, all you need is a notebook and a few ideas. There are many great books out there on the subject. You can Google writing prompts. Or you can write about your life. I promise you, it’s interesting enough to write about once you start delving into it. The key is to start. 

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Schedule Time To Write

We often say that we are too busy to write, but the truth is, we haven’t made it a priority. We don’t have to spend hours writing, or even complete a chapter a day if that’s not where you are right now. But if you are able to schedule time to write, you’ll find that you’ll make progress. Whether you’re a morning person and can get fifteen minutes in before you head to work, or you prefer to come home and spend thirty minutes on the computer after dinner, schedule time to write. Put words onto the page. They don’t have to be very good, but they do have to be there. You can edit bad writing, you can’t edit a blank page. So schedule time and start writing. 

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As a writer, sharing your work can be a stressful proposition. In fact, for some, the thought of opening yourself up to criticism and judgment is paralyzing. This anxiety can stop you from sharing your work and possibly becoming published. But at the same time, you know your writings may help or inspire someone else, so what do you do? Below are some steps you can take to help alleviate this anxiety:

  • Acknowledge your fears: they are real, and they are legitimate. They’re also very normal. You’re stepping into a new situation and let’s face it, new can be scary, especially if you don’t know what to expect. But just because you don’t know doesn’t mean you don’t share what you’ve written, or worse, you stop writing. Look for the rationale behind the fears—are you afraid of what others might think? Are you unsure of your work? Understand your anxiety and then come up with a plan of action to successfully deal with it.
  • Determine if your writing is ready to be read. I like to quote Hemingway, who famously said, “The first draft of anything is garbage.” So, if you’re working with a first draft, you probably don’t want someone reading it. But a little extra work and love will get your writing to the place where you might be comfortable sharing it. Keep in mind, it doesn’t have to be perfect, because nothing and no one is. But you can get your writing to a good place and that will help alleviate some of the anxiety of sharing it.
  • Find someone you trust to share your stories/writing with. If you’re hesitant because of the potential for criticism, look for someone who will be supportive of your writing and understands your anxiety. This person may be a family member, a friend, a mentor or a teacher. The key is to find someone you trust.
  • When you find that person, be clear about what you’re requesting of them. Do you want feedback? Do you want a well-thought-out critique? Or do you just want support? More often than not, there are plenty of people around you who would be happy to support you and meet you where you are—you just need to ask.
  • If you’re not comfortable with people close to you, think about sharing your work with anonymous readers. There are plenty of great sites online that were created for amateur writers to share their written pieces (like Wattpad, or Medium) or you can start your own blog (on platforms like WordPress or Wix). You can use a pen name or post anonymously. Or you can find someone you aren’t close to (perhaps in your church, school, or work) who would be willing to give you an unbiased opinion about your work.

The anxiety of sharing your written work with others is real, but you don’t have to let it stop you from taking the next step towards publishing. Assess where you are as a writer and take the necessary steps to overcome your fears. Your audience is waiting for you!

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