How to Deal with Constructive Criticism as an Aspiring Writer

Malcolm Gladwell states that it takes 10,000 hours to become a master of anything.

Have you put 10,000 hours into your writing?

If you’re not even close, it’s going to show. Your writing will be rough around the edges. Your technique will be off. You may make some egregious errors in plotting. Your description could be overdone or nearly nonexistent. Your characters may be poorly developed. Your dialogue might sound unrealistic.

Don’t freak out! All of this is part of the growth process when you’re an aspiring writer. You’re normal. You’re not a bad writer. You’re exactly where you’re supposed to be.

You’re going to make mistakes, plenty of them; and if you show other writers your stuff, they’ll pick it apart. That’s a good thing. They’re helping you, even though it feels like they’re insulting your precious literary babies.

I don’t personally believe in literary genius; I believe in literary effort. If you put the effort in, you’ll become a stellar writer. If you don’t, you’ll have to deal with constructive criticism, which isn’t such a bad thing.

When you do face constructive criticism of your fiction (or any other type of writing), always remember the following three things:

1. Remember that it’s not meant as a personal attack.

2. Remember that’s in your best interest to get critiqued if you would like to improve your writing.

3. Remember that an aspiring writer who puts the effort in is constantly increasing her/his abilities.

How do you handle constructive criticism of your writing? Have you ever felt uncomfortable when receiving constructive criticism? Why?

Boost Your Platform and Reap the Rewards

Every aspiring writer (and truthfully, every emerging writer too) needs to be heavily involved in a writing-related project. It doesn’t matter whether it is a project that you create or whether you latch on to an already established project; either way, you must do more than just write in order to be taken seriously in the literary game.

The sad truth is that there are (and always will be) many talented writers who will never get their work out to the literary-inclined public. They may publish on Smashwords and generate a readership consisting of little more than family and friends. They are great writers, yet they won’t have their books discussed (dissected?) by critics. They are talented voices, yet they won’t have their books on display at The Strand. No one will read their work, regardless of what they create, because they never amassed a platform.

You already know that you need to submit your writing to literary journals and small publishers, and to connect with agents. However, if you keep getting rebuffed, even though you’re doing everything right, you need to consider your platform, or more specifically your lack of a platform.

I think Lena Dunham is a genius. Lena Dunham received a $3.7 million advance for her new book. Why did she receive that much money? Of course, she is quite a talented writer (and actress), but the reason that she received $3.7 million for the rights to her manuscript, while many other writers would be lucky to receive $4,000, let alone publish at all, is because of her platform. She created a television show (Girls) that depicts the life of modern cosmopolitan twentysomethings in a way that has never been done before, and because of that she reaped a considerable reward from Random House.

If you are struggling as a writer, you need to analyze your platform. Who are you? What have you accomplished? Is your name is known at least within a certain niche group? If not, you need to get cracking. Create your own blog, start a literary group, become a reader for a literary magazine—just do something to get known in the sphere of writing (unless you can do something quite a bit bigger in some other sphere.)

It all comes down to platform. If you have a modicum of talent, you can write something that can get published. However, without the platform, it makes it quite a bit harder. All you have to do is get known, then all the rest will take care of itself.

Do you have any good tips for writers looking to enhance their platform? Please feel free to share them by commenting on this post.

Four Reasons Why You Should Consider Writing With a Friend

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My first time writing with a friend wasn’t very auspicious. It didn’t ruin our friendship, and what was completed of the story was pretty interesting; the only issue was the simple matter of completing our chapters, which sort of fell by the wayside. The end result was a project that ended before it had even really started.

Which brings us to the present—I’m now partnering on a screenplay with a new friend that I made, a very talented writer/actor/filmmaker named Zubair Simonson. I met Zubair as I was walking down Lexington Avenue in New York City. My briefcase, filled with admittedly gaudy advertising for this project written in Wite-Out, was slung over my shoulder. I noticed a man looking at me with a quizzical expression. This being New York City, I kept walking. One block later, Zubair inquired about the blog and the rest is history.

I’m a slow writer; Zubair is not. I have connections to the film industry; Zubair does not. We’ve formed a perfect partnership. I’ve seen screenwriting partnerships work already. My cousin Andrew Friedman and his screenwriting partner Stephen Dackson have one of their scripts in pre-production. Teamwork can make big things happen.

So, why should you consider writing with a friend? Here are a few reasons:

1. It’s a lot more fun than writing alone.

2. Bouncing ideas around to someone else helps deliver a sharper story.

3. Your partner can complement your weaknesses.

4. It can speed up the time it would take to complete a story. 

If you think this applies only to screenwriting, you’re wrong. Jack Kerouac and William S. Burroughs worked in collaboration to produce And The Hippos Were Boiled in Their Tanks. Why can’t you collaborate on a novel, or a short story, or a poem, with a friend?

Have you ever tried to write collaboratively before? What was your experience like?

Should You Write Fanfiction?

When I was fourteen, I wrote quite a bit of fanfiction devoted to my favorite video game, EarthBound for the Super Nintendo.

Was it good?

No, but that was largely a product of my inexperience and the lack of effort I put into it.

Can fanfiction be good?

Of course it can. But should you write fanfiction?

If you are a fan of something, yes, of course you can create fanfiction. If your fanfiction is interesting, it can attract the attention of many other ardent fans. However, it won’t attract the attention of a publisher because of issues of copyright. Fanfiction is, by nature, underground fiction.

So, should you spend your time writing fanfiction? Well, that depends. Why do you write? If your ambition is to create an original vision, then no. If your goal is to get published, to interact in literary circles, to be taken seriously by people with MFAs, then no. Writing fanfiction is a waste of time if the latter or the former are your reasons for writing.

However, if you write simply because you love writing and connecting with readers (as the latter groups do as well), but aren’t too concerned with originality or all the trappings of a writer’s lifestyle, then go ahead and write fanfiction. 

What are your thoughts on fanfiction? Do you think fanfiction can have literary merit? Have you ever composed any fanfiction?

Promoting Your Creative Writing

Before I launch into this post, I hope that you’ll read my poem “Smyrna, 1993” published today in Eunoia Review, an excellent online literary journal.

There’s a tendency for many writers to often downplay their own achievements. Out of modesty, they may not want to promote their writing as often as they should, or even at all. Doing so is seen as commercial and crass.

I don’t believe that this attitude is a healthy one. Writing is about sharing your vision with the world. You can’t do that if you’re an unknown. It’s so much easier to get yourself moving in the right direction if you start letting people know who you are and what you’ve done. 

But how can you do so? Here are four ways to consider:

1. Social Media – Whenever good things happen, whether it be having a piece published in a literary journal, putting out an eBook, getting booked for a reading, completing the first draft of your novel, or planning to visit an open mic to perform poetry, let your friends and followers on social media know about it. 

2. Get Connected to Local Writers – Regardless of if you live in a metropolitan area or a small town, there will be other writers around. Find them. Join their groups. Go to their events. Strike up friendships with them. Being an insider will help integrate you in the literary game.

3. Online Writing Spaces – Read the blogs of other writers. Join writing-related message boards and websites. Help other writers whenever possible. If you put forth a good effort, you’ll soon establish some excellent contacts who would be happy to assist you in promoting your own writing.

4. Help Publishers – Volunteer in some capacity for a literary magazine or small press that publishes work that you enjoy. If you have relevant experience, consider applying for positions at a major publisher.

How do you promote your own writing? Did I miss anything that may be helpful to an aspiring writer? Please feel free to share your thoughts.

You Don’t Have To Be a Serious Writer

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I write serious fiction. My work is offbeat, but it’s still within the sphere of the literary establishment. However, I dislike the attitude that permeates certain circles, one that believes that literary fiction is more important than other types of fiction or is the only type of quality fiction.

I think that much of this attitude is born out of the academy. If you’re enrolled in a  creative writing program in your undergraduate career or if you are pursuing an MFA, you’re going to learn craft, and most likely you will become skilled in the technical component of writing fiction. However, you also may consciously or subconsciously start picking up on the cues of the kind of writing that a serious writer should and shouldn’t write. That’s why it can be confining to write for a literary audience—the parameters are not nearly as wide as for the audience for literature as a whole.

A writer should write whatever story she feels called to put on the page. Of course, it should be technically sound. However, it doesn’t have to be limited to stories about serious people dealing with serious situations within the tradition of realism and hefty with a subtle philosophical weight. Your work can be light, it can be a romance, or a mystery, or pulpy, or fantastical, or belligerent. As long as your writing is sharp, as long as your writing is fresh, you ought to feel pretty satisfied, regardless of whether your work would be deemed “serious” fiction or not.

What’s your take on this? Do you write literary fiction? Am I going too far? Do you write mainstream or genre fiction? Have you ever felt slighted by the literary establishment?

Six Mistakes That Publishers Hate

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As an aspiring writer attempting to build a name, you don’t want to irritate publishers. There are many mistakes that publishers hate. Please make sure to avoid the following:

1. Responding to Rejections – If your writing is rejected by a publisher, don’t respond to the rejection under any circumstances. A response is inappropriate. A response trying to convince a publisher otherwise, insulting them for passing on your writing, or bemoaning the rejection is a huge faux pas.

2. Poorly Edited Material – Even if your concept is interesting, if your writing is poorly executed you’re wasting a publisher’s time—and your own. You must have your fiction edited before sending your work out to a publisher. There’s no way around this step.

3. Material That’s An Inappropriate Fit – How do you imagine a publisher would feel if they had to reject (as they will) the most amazing piece they’ve ever read because it’s totally incongruous with their style? Show some respect and submit your writing to appropriate markets.

4. Fanfiction – I don’t really need to say anything more: it’s called copyright.

5. Ignoring Submission Guidelines – You can’t send seven poems to a literary magazine if they ask writers to send no more than three. You can’t send a short fiction piece as an attachment if the literary journal wants it copied in the body of an email. Always read the submission guidelines before submitting and make sure to follow them.

6. Unprofessional Query/Cover Letters – You’re not displaying personality, all you’re doing is showing a lack of professionalism. A too informal cover letter rubs many publishers the wrong way, even when submitting somewhere that appreciates edgy work or presents itself on their website as rather informal. You’ll be seen as an amateur, regardless of the quality of your writing.

Have you ever made any of these mistakes? It’s time to ‘fess up about your tragic experiences so that other aspiring writers can avoid making the same errors.

I imagine that sharing these experiences will also have a cathartic effect, but don’t quote me on that…