In the past year or so, I’ve redoubled my efforts to become a better writer of fiction. While I’m pretty comfortable with some of my writing (too comfortable, in many ways), I’ve never felt good as a storyteller, judging my work for being too cliched, too amateurish, or too poorly developed.
So I’ve taken a few steps to improve that, and I feel confident that I’ve gotten my skills to a point where they’re passable, at least to start doing more serious writing work. Here are a few of the milestones I’ve hit that I feel have really made that happen:
One of the things I did a while back is revisit Wattpad. I had made an account aeons ago, but never really used it until some time last year.
This public sharing hasn’t been hugely successful. I’ve only gotten something like a hundred views on my largest piece of work, and that’s not great, but it forced me to do a few things:
- Stop writing for myself, and start writing for an audience.
- Get over shyness and actually publish stuff.
- Practice, practice, practice!
I wouldn’t call the stuff I’ve put up on Wattpad fine art, it’s more rough sketches with some elements of practicing. It’s the writing equivalent of a speed-paint; almost nothing is planned, and most of it’s pretty iffy in terms of its end results.
However, it has succeeded in a couple ways: having a space for feedback and criticism (roughly one in ten people who reads my stuff shoots me a message about a particular thing they like, and I can tell what people mark as their favorites and look at those).
One thing I note that I need to get a little better at is writing daily. I’ve been working on my blog daily, which has been giving me some practice, but it’s not the same as the other stuff. With big projects underway, it’s important to keep that Wattpad space as spitball space where I can just crank out random little snippets that may or may not grow into something.
Discover the Framework
A big thing that has helped me become a better writer is having a framework on which to write. I’m a big fan of Joseph Campbell and psychological archetypes as foundations for guiding writing.
When I was younger I often wanted to avoid formulas, thinking that they would be unoriginal and boring.
Now that I’m a bit more mature as a writer, I’ve begun to appreciate the fact that methods are tools, rather than restrictions or copycat methods. This gives a different approach and really makes it possible to plan out what I am doing, which is something that younger me didn’t fully appreciate (hey, young brains are bad at predicting the future and making value assessments on what they will really want) even though it is quite important to working on larger projects.
Know(or Learn About) Yourself
It’s no secret that I’ve been big on self-improvement stuff recently, but I think that a certain part of writing well is knowing yourself. I remember one piece I was writing on Wattpad, Aftermath.
At the time I wrote it, I don’t think I really had a clue what I was doing. It’s not great, but it’s self-reflective. Many of our writings seem to be shaped by things deeper than what we know; I’m not enough of a psychologist to really go into detail about how the mind is set up (nor gullible enough to believe everything people say about the mind), but there does seem to be some part of us that fosters the creative that is subconsciously aware of our bigger concerns and issues, often more so than we are.
At the time I wrote Aftermath, I was going through a bit of a crisis of identity. As a teacher, I always try to hold myself to a high standard, and I was having a moment of self-doubt where I was occupied by my own fears of inadequacy and the impossibility of trying to improve people who, for all intents and purposes, know you much better than you know them.
Aftermath was my way of working through that. At some point while I was writing the story the nature of what it was clicked in my mind, and I realized that it was intended as a story of rejection and denial; of taking responsibility and not taking responsibility, and how those two lines can be crossed.
Writing about it let me achieve catharsis, and it helped me overcome some of my fears and anxieties. While it’s not the best story on earth just because of the fact that a lot of it was based on stress and fear rather than intent and initiative, I think it is still compelling to someone interested in approaching it in its way.
Don’t Feel Ashamed
I went back and posted some of my oldest surviving creative writing on my Wattpad, from back in my college days.
It is so awful it hurts.
I didn’t really have a good feel for what makes writing work well, but I tried my darnedest to meet the length requirements my professor set.
To this day, I’ve wondered if his words “You’ll make a great teacher because you give good feedback.” were intended to imply that I couldn’t write good stories, or if it was that I really did give good feedback.
I honestly wouldn’t be bitter if it was the former, because once I learned to look at myself with a healthy inner critic (as opposed to the hyperactive critic I once had and developed again shortly after taking the class, or the vainglorious critic I had during the class), I realized that I hadn’t really given him any evidence to the contrary.
Basically, I was not a good writer. I might not be yet, though at least some people have enjoyed my writing and that’s a great joy. If I had let that get me down, I would never have gotten where I am.
Basically, here’s the super-brief overview:
Improving as a writer means going into the world without fear and taking a look at who you are, what the world is, and what you want to say. Build knowledge of the frameworks that dominate the universe, and recount them in your stories. Don’t be afraid of failure, or you’ll stop your journey before you begin.