I think one of the hardest things about being a writer is that you have to trust your gut. For most of us aspiring authors, it’s a tough thing to suss out the productive from the non-productive. We, as a species—writers—are inundated with info and workshops and literary journals/magazines, critique groups, conferences, editors’ opinions, professionals’ opinions, etc. And ALL THE TIME.
One thing I have come to realize over the years as a published writer is that, at some point, you have to let go of what others think, to a certain extent, and accept who and what and where you are as a serious writer.
The hard truth is that most people, especially people in critique groups, don’t know what’s going to truly make your book, short story, etc, better. They can help you figure out where your story starts and they can help you find your voice, etc, sure, but that helps only to a point. Really, you have to accept that the best way to learn is to WRITE and write a lot. And, as King says, read a lot as well. Study what the masters did, then study what the contemporary commercial and literary writers are doing in 2015. Read popular books and ask yourself why they might be appealing to a mass audience (even the books you don’t like).
I recently read (finally) the first Hunger Games book. I know this is an incredibly popular YA dystopian novel. I could see why. Frankly, I feel that this is not the best written book, for many reasons. But it has sold tens of thousands (if not hundreds) of copies worldwide. There are reasons for this. For one thing, the narrator’s empathy and emotional understanding of that particular age group is off the charts; the author really recalled that time in life well. For another thing, there is tension from the very beginning; we are placed in a high-stakes, can’t-go-back type of situation and readers LOVE this kind of thing. They want to be hooked right away and pulled in.
Plot is super, super important, especially for commercial books in 2015 that sell. We need to see the who, what, when, where, and why. Move the story forward using action and dialogue. Use empathy and a strong emotional connection to hook in the reader and make sure it’s authentic. That’s key. Readers are smart and aware and no-bullshit people; they’ll smell a rat from a million miles away. It’s like acting in a film; if we notice even for a split-fraction of a second that you ARE acting…well…the jig is up. And actors only get stronger by practice. Our practice, as authors, is writing every single day. I don’t care if it’s for half an hour. Do it. No excuses.
Anyway, back to the critique groups, etc. Lots of people will tell you lots of things. Everybody has an opinion. You can’t shut everyone out and some people have wonderful points to point out; listen to these ones. But there is often a LOT of white noise. Tune these ones out. If you feel you need a group, fine. But you don’t necessarily need one. It’s the truth. Stephen King warns new writers against the potential pitfalls of creative writing college programs and workshop/critique groups. Why? Because he knows the secret to becoming a good writer: Write and read as much as possible and find an editor and ideal reader (just one) that you trust. The rest, frankly, is all trimming the top of the grass. The root comes from the work done on your own. Remember: creative writing teachers and workshop instructors have to make a living. That may sound…irreverent…but it’s true. Sorry.
So my point here is: Think for yourself, listen openly and respectfully but with common sense and self-awareness; read and write a heck of a lot (every day if possible); research all this publishing/writing stuff via Google; ask questions; join a workshop if need be to experience it; and rock on. Get your work out there to the great big world! Oh, and get a darn editor you trust!
I am a freelance developmental book editor. Formerly I was a literary agent’s assistant. I received my BA in writing from SF State. As a published writer myself, I love to edit other peoples’ books; it gives me an electric thrill.
If you have a novel or memoir you’d like me to look at, email me at: email@example.com. I look at anything other than children’s, middle grade, or picture books.