Since March 2013, I’ve begun to frame my writing as “a career”. But that brings about all sorts of “legitimacy” concerns.
Am I a real writer? These issues arise especially at the editing stage – where I tend to find really rubbish bits of my early writing. That’s when I doubt my skill the most.
All the advice to writers is to read and to write. And read more. And write more.
Write every day.
Read everything you can get your hands on.
Critique it all as you go along.
I already have a goal to read 26 books this year (as I used to read about 70 and a few years ago realised I’d only read 12….), and I have a couple of writing projects in progress.
But that’s not enough for me. I don’t want to ruin the books I read by trying to work out what’s good and what’s bad in them. So I’ve begun beta-reading. I’ve switched my novel-in-progress with other people’s and I’ve just offered to help other writers with their own craft. This gives me a lot of writing to critique, and it’s generally not something I’ve read the synopsis of and desperately want to enjoy as a story. I want to help the writer, and that puts me in a different frame of mind.
I’ve beta-read at least the beginnings of six books now, and I’m beginning to find common themes in new novelist’s work. I’m also getting some brilliant feedback from those authors.
Essentially, I’m just commenting on good and bad bits of writing, and suggesting perhaps another way of wording the odd bit to illustrate what I mean in a comment…
This requires me to:
a) know what’s wrong with a word/phrase/sentence
b) explain that simply
c) and often re-write it in a slightly better way
This means I read, I critique, and I write. All in one process, alongside helping another writer learn. In some cases, I’ve sent emails about a specific thing – like “show don’t tell” or “the use of tenses in verbs”. At the weekend, I wrote an email to a writer explaining that while choosing to start the book at X incident, he’d ignored the whole incident and was instead giving me back-story to his world.
A year ago, I probably didn’t really know the specific rule that it’s breaking, but now I’m able to notice it and explain it. In this instance, I re-wrote the first four lines with the information I’d hope to have in it (and then listed the exact items I’d included so he was clear on why).
I’m not able to teach a massive course on the elements of writing. But I am able to point out both the really good, and the not-so-good in a piece of writing.
Most of the time, I believe in that ability. But every now and again, when I’m staring at a phrase I’ve used in my own work, I feel like a “rubbish writer”. Or worse, a “fake writer”.
But thanks to my beta-reading, I’ve begun to collect little snippets of those writers’ faith in my skills:
“I can tell from what you have done so far that you are so much more skilled at writing than I am, and I would be honoured to have you help me, I would learn a lot. All your comments are really clear and wonderfully useful!”
“You bring attention to things that need them. You don’t know how much I’m thankful for you taking your time to help me like this.”
“THANK YOU for doing it in a sensible, useful way.”
“I love your comments. They’re helpful and nice at the same time. You have no idea how giddy that [comment about a positive] makes me.”
Maybe I’m not doing the same thing anyone could do. Maybe I’m using skills I’ve honed throughout studying the English Language, writing novels and short stories, reading the rules in Strunk and White, and enjoying books from a young age.
And maybe that’s something I can offer the world a bit more than I do now.