I been writing for 16 years now. I know it may not seem like a long time but I do believe that because I was writing this long, both consistently at times and intermittently at others, that I have gotten some experience. My experience may or may not help others but I think writing down some points is always good.
What have I written?
I have written my own stories, poetry and I have written fanfiction.
I started writing my own original short stories and fanfiction. Many people may not like writing fanfiction. There are reasons for not liking fanfiction. However, I do not agree with it not being serious writing. Fanfiction is not always smut writing or attempts at erotica. It can be very well defined and detailed, and at times, supersede the original work or give it layers that the original did not support.
I have learned that fanfiction can be analytical writing. It is a form of essaying into what we perceive and what can be done with characters and plots. Fanfiction writing is also a form of sandbox. The term sandbox is more popular with coders because it is a test sheet in which they can experiment with code and try things out. Fanfiction many not always be a scratch sheet but in the beginning it does serve to others a form of blueprint in how to navigate the writing/writer’s arena. So, I do not discourage fanfiction. It is through our passions for creativity, reflected in others’, that sometimes we find our own voices.
Now, as I have gotten that aside I want to write down some points that may be of use to you. These points are not rule of thumb and you are free to customise them whichever way suits your needs. They are meant to orient you to writing and how you can shape yourself better as a writer. Some of these tips are things to help bring out a mindset for writing. Others are involved in the body of writing.
- Nothing is fully innate ability — Recently, I had a chance to interact with a blogger who lives in Japan and makes Lolita dresses by herself. People ask her for advice on how wonderfully she can make these dresses and she responds to them to the best of her knowledge. I like Lolita dresses but I am not that engaged with the lifestyle, however, it was nice to see someone so passionate about doing something they love. And, doing it well. I won’t be afraid to admit that I was envious and I mentioned it to them. I told them that I wish I had their talent. That is when she said something very important. She told me that she worked hard on all of her dresses. That each ensemble took time and effort. That it was a process of trial and error that she came to this point. Saying talent alone usually reduces all that hard effort and makes it seem magical.
What is important is that you learn this now. No matter what your age, 17, 19, 22, 27 or 37 or 64 get it out of your system as much as possible that innate ability is this incomparable reservoir of creativity that you are born with and that only some people have it and others don’t. Even the most “gifted” people need to practice. Our mainstream cultures have a tendency to portray the “gifted” as someone who easily gets things. They are so awesome they get it in a few minutes or their first attempt is successful as anything. Look, life isn’t some anime where the shougo heroine or shounen hero gets to level up so fast and achieve greatness in one go. Nor is it a scene from Good Will Hunting. We may admire and love movies like Good Will Hunting but it is not necessarily real.
Even genius has a process and requires experience. If you don’t believe think about Will in the film. Despite his gifts he squanders most of them and initially is reticent in getting into his passions because he fears rejection and he wants to socially fit in. He may have an innate ability for mathematics but he does poorly socially and even interpersonally. Not to mention, he is in denial about himself and his own insecurities and pain. Then he does practise mathematics. It’s not like he doesn’t. He reads books, tries to learn more. Yes, because it is a film we don’t get to see the process but it’s there.
Innate ability may have some merit but practice and understanding usually play a major role in expanding yourself. So, please get it out of your head that you cannot do something because you are not innately good at it. This is a self-defeating and procrastinating attitude. Even I have it and try to get rid of it. It is also a relaxed attitude — I dare say lazy. We cannot ascribe to our passions without any sort of trial or effort. Struggles, small and large, make the process meaningful and salient.
Sometimes, the more mistakes we do learning allows us the greater avenue of success. We may not want to try something for fear of all the long hours of work, fear of failure and fear of the unknown. These are all natural fears. But what is also natural is you overcoming them. These fears are not a fatality. You have the power to make them insignificant by showing the fears who is boss. Your fears should not master you; you should master them.
If you do not like the idea of mastering them then think of fear as little sprites that are naughty and a bit hyperactive. Think of them as naive and sweet beings that are hungry for your attention. They could even be parasitic. Give them a glass of milk, feed them some cookies and send them outside to play or to bed. The thing is that fears and even the reluctance to do hard work will becoming damaging as you keep on going in life. Hard work does pay off. That is the age old rule that actually does stick and work.
Understand your craft and work hard. Only you can for your stories, writing and any other passions you may have. Do not think that the Valkyries will suddenly sing and the gates of Valhalla will open and you will drink ambrosia and be gifted with the Midas touch. Even Midas had to be king before he got his touch and there had to be warriors for Valhalla to appear and the Valkyries to know the songs they would soon compose and fight alongside to. Don’t aspire to get to chapter 10 before you haven’t even done chapter 1. The only innate thing you can truly possess with some certainty is your perseverance and endurance. There will be bad days and there will be good days. Take them all as the climbing steps for progress.
- Do not be discouraged by Haters — This is a very important rule and one that you must try to always keep on reinforcing to yourself. No matter how hard it gets. When you start there are things that won’t be polished. Writing is a lot like woodcutting and carpentry. You start with a block of wood and it still had stubborn sticks and branches, truant leaves and all of the rough edges that do not look nice on its own. When you start an experiment in a laboratory you are just given raw materials that you have dissect, wait to precipitate and then get results.
Writing is no different than this. Sometimes, you may be in the drawing board for hours, days, weeks or months. It can take years to finally even find your voice and style. This is the same with art. This is not saying you cannot get it faster. Sometimes, our other skills help the one we are trying to foster. So, don’t think if you are a certain age you cannot learn writing. As I said before the only innate you can be completely sure about is perseverance and endurance.
Now, here is the thing. Not everyone can do what you do. This is a truth. And, it is a fact. Not everyone will have the guts to well write or even try to write and then show it to others. This takes some form of courage if not confidence. You must remember that not everyone inculcates or teaches themselves this form of courage. Yes, courage can be taught. Everything in the world is learned via the tutelage of different forms. The people who cannot do this actually learn something else. They learn cleverness. Cleverness is not always a good quality because it can discriminate and be very partial to others other than oneself. When people are spouting vitriolic about your work they are aspiring to be clever. That is why a comeback can be clever but may not fully be honest or helpful.
Haters have no courage. They do not know how to have it. What they have is venom and cleverness in abundance. Remember firstly a hater mostly hates themselves. A person cannot be this acerbic to a work without some acerbity towards themselves. If you have not written a nasty opinion which is mired in racism, queerphobia, xenophobia, sexism, misogyny, misandry, transphobia and discrimination of any sort there is no reason for anyone to hate your work this passionately. Usually, people who have enlightened opinions are enlightened in their critique. If you are young or not well informed about something people will first approach you with the benefit of the doubt.
Haters and trolls are a subset of a new age tabloidism, in that they are sensationalist, melodramatic and full of spite for themselves and others. A good example of this is the anonymous message service in Tumblr. I do receive a good amount of anon hate and have received them for some years. I don’t really let it faze me anymore. Haters hate me because they can. It is not a need or a desire. It is built on a false consumption of a choice. Instead of choosing to fulfil their lives and instead of making themselves better to the image they aspire to be they are wasting their time and yours by hating on you. They don’t know and many a times they don’t know your work intimately or informatively either. They are just people with a grudge who want to vent. Instead of choosing healthier ways to do that, they choose to be toxic. Toxicity is not your priority; creativity is. So, don’t listen to the haters.
A teacher of mine recently stated that it is also social/human nature to drag others down. If you can do something or have the passion to want to do something be prepared to meet a few people that will tell you, you can’t. I wish I knew this back when I was 16 or 17. I remember those times social media was young and I posted poems on Facebook. One guy, who I tagged as a friend, always use to say some of the most rude comments about my work. He would ascribe them to be that of a emo, 3rd grader with no creativity. I remember calling my best friend then, young as I was, at night and crying to her. She consoled me and told me not to take this personally. So, I approached him and said that there was no need to be so hostile towards my work if he didn’t like it. The reply was nice but it pointed out my flaws instead of his. Saying he should have remembered that I was a bit of a softie and not taking responsibility for his actions.
In retrospect, I am happy he did do that. It proved the thing my teacher said. If I asked him if he could do better or write better I am sure he couldn’t have. If he honestly answered he couldn’t come close to what I was writing then. So what if it was emo and angsty; that is common and normal for a teenager. Especially, for a teenager who have faced abused most of their life. It may seem emo to him but could he write of his own injustices this way? When we write we are also doing something therapeutic. Meaning: important to our socio-physical, emotional and psychological well being. A hater knows this and their cruelty is like a thief they attack this vulnerability of yours. Remember their vulnerability, not power, is also their attack on you. Treat it as such.
Jeanette Winterson said that poetry is important because a tough life needs a tough language. She is completely correct. People who can do better have a portfolio either professional or otherwise of doing better. Their words are concomitant to their actions. Their words are also usually clear that aside hate they know what they are talking about. They show knowledge in their criticism. Haters usually nag, whine, complain and give cheap opinions.
Haters are ironically also your most avid fans because they stalk your work and social media accounts with the chance to bully you. If you did stop doing what you do for the sake of them their triumph is short lived and they want you back so soon. You are their pinata and they miss you like anything. More so than a lover. They are codependent and parasitic. So, don’t stop writing for haters. Haters will hate whatever you write. Even if you write something in synchronicity with The Theory of Everything they will still hate your guts. They lack their own so like vultures they pick at yours.
Haters gonna Hate. Writers Gonna Write.
- Take Constructive Criticism — There are always going to be people who are knowledgeable and give you advice. They could be doing other things but they are helpful enough to tell you perhaps your language could be better, or your syntax or you can put in more expressions. Don’t take these as negatives. Take these also as progress. Your writing touched someone enough to leave constructive criticism, which means they valued your writing in one form or another. They believe you have the potential to grow further and be farther than where you are. That is saying something especially in today’s world full of haters and trolls. They gave you a perspective you possibly haven’t checked and could do wonders for your writing if you did check.
There is no true set limit to a skill. Your life is not Sims so that you master skills and then you have nothing to do. Life is ready and ripe with opportunities and for you and you are also there for it. It is important to take criticisms not as — and this is very important — as an evaluation on yourself. Ad hominem arguments usually come from haters where they build you up as a straw man and try to burn you like an effigy. Constructive criticism is meant to help you put final touches or at least help you along your road of success.
Think about the block of wood I spoke about earlier. After carving it out someone notices it could use more varnish, or some wood chips are unevenly out or that one side is engraved too much. These are all said to make your work look more aesthetically pleasing and also substantial. You have the guts to write something then you also organically have the guts to take this. Trust me. Constructive criticism is meant to tie up courage and confidence. That is why writers online also have beta readers. Beta readers are the text audience who are going to see how your writing is flowing. These are all normal aspects of writing. Do not be discouraged by them.
When I was 14-19 I had a hard time taking constructive criticism. I haven’t fully mastered it yet but at that time I was completely reluctant to take it. It was not necessarily pride that stopped me it was the inability to understand what my audience was saying. I was young, inexperienced and immature. My audience was telling me not to be so experimental with my writing style. This was for fanfiction writing. Obviously, the demographic may want something different. Yet, as I got older I decided to incorporate some of the advice they have been saying. It worked better for me too. I mean I realised I couldn’t finish projects because I was demanding too much of myself in one place which could also serve as a constrained medium.
Saying that, I am also happy I experimented. That I took long to listen to their advice. This may seem contrary to what I stated but it is not. See, I was young and discovering aspects of my voice and style. I terribly needed to do what I did. It was a form of catharsis that literally helped me mentally, emotionally, psychologically and physically. We all have moments like this and we all need them. Seizing these moments is seizing life as well. To understand better who we are and what we are doing and also the why and how we are doing.
It is your job as the writer to actually understand what constructive criticism you would need and what you wouldn’t. Think about a mathematics problem. They say certain things about it that could be excess information. But for you to make x and y you don’t need everything. Mathematics is also about context, elimination and extraction as much as writing is. So, you take what you feel is necessary and you could use to improve yourself. And, things you don’t you ruminate on them later or don’t engage with them as much.
Your responsibility as a writer is to write and to write well in how and what you write. You don’t always need to listen to what a reader or reviewer is saying if you feel they are going antithetical to your ideas and writing goals. That doesn’t give you the right to be rude with them. It allows you to understand other perspectives and how you can better write your messages across. If a reviewer or reader gives a suggestion or desperately wants something you don’t have to cave in to their wishes. This is something I learned the hard way too. Your story may be different than their expectations and that is actually good. If you were to write only for their expectations what would you learn or what would they?
So, the idea is to map out those comments and extricate the meat of it and eschew the rest. You don’t always have to feel the pressing need that you may lose a fan if you don’t write by their standards. You may actually lose the respect of your fan if you always cave in to what they want. They may disregard your ideologies and philosophies because they feel you are governed more with a nature to please than to persist. And persist you shall with your own autonomy. No person is a locked island though so obviously the tides of criticism are needed but they may also abate to see the coastlines of your writing shores.
Take advice wisely. Remember that the writing is coming from you and no one else. You have a better grasp on the realities and expectations of the writing than anyone else can so you should write them out as such. Do not let peer pressure or even the pressure of ratings malign your course of action.
~ To be continued