Keep Getting Better
I hear from a lot of people, gay guys mostly, who write and hope to be published one day. When they ask for my advice, I always reply with the same question: What are you doing to improve your writing?
No matter how good you are, you can always get better. A wealth of excellent resources with practical advice for aspiring writers is available online and in print. But having your work critiqued by somebody who knows more than you do about writing is the best way to improve.
You’ve already had some experience with this. Remember your high school English teacher? An excellent example is the term paper you
copied from the encyclopedia slaved over, returned by her with “Rewrite!” scrawled across the top in the same red ink as all the comments scribbled in the margins and, in some cases, carried over onto the back of the page.
Nearly forty years later, my perspective has changed. That kind of feedback is very hard to come by, especially for free. Were she still living, I’d hug that English teacher and maybe send her some flowers — along with drafts of a few chapters to “grade” for me.
Several of my beta readers are English teachers. Considering the amount of red ink they go through every night grading papers, that they can spare the time to look at a draft for me is a testament to our friendship. But the comments I get back from volunteer readers, even my English teacher pals, are almost always glowingly positive. Nice to hear…wonderful even…but only so helpful.
Joining the Athens Writers Workshop was a slap in the face. My masterpiece of a memoir needs a lot of work you say? Damn whippersnappers. Hell, I’ve forgotten more about writing than these kids have had time to learn. But I kept coming back, reading the same submissions everybody else read, always amazed by the comments they had and all the stuff I’d missed.
Recognizing the group for what they were — a nasty-ass bunch of English teacher wannabes — the masochist in me wanted to set loose the biting, snapping beasts on my writing. The experience closely paralleled graduate school, but the tuition was only ten dollars a year. The group was my committee, and Until Thanksgiving my dissertation. The hooding ceremony took place back in December when Dreamspinner Press published the book. Now I am Michael Rupured, Author. That’s right. No initials behind my name. I got a whole word.
Now, in addition to my beloved nasty-ass pals in the writers group, I have editors. Instead of red ink, they use track changes for comments and suggested revisions. Initially, I reject the advice/suggestion/comment. Then I’ll think about it, and realize they were right.
The more you write, the better you get. Finding someone to rip your work to shreds will speed things up. Sure, it hurts, but you know what they say — no pain, no gain.
The more I learn, the more aware I become of how little I really know. Getting better motivates me to keep writing. And I wouldn’t have it any other way.