There comes a time in every artisan’s life when she wonders: How can I move further? Some get stuck at this junction at the start of their journey and others even after years of experience, but it is inevitable for anyone who is sincerely interested in continuing to improve. While there are plenty of beneficial online courses, workshops and webinars, these may not be easily accessible to everyone due to cost or timing. I’ve put together six strategies that, if you continue to implement them in your work, you are sure to continue to develop. If you’ve ever wondered, Am I good enough? Will people find my work helpful? Will they like it? What if I fail?, then read on to quench these doubts and help hone your craft. Please note that while I address writers and writing specifically, these techniques can be used over a variety of disciplines.
- Use the negative. You know that saying ‘you can’t please everyone’? Well this is also true in writing. You will find a few people who love your writing. You will also find some who think your work is just ok. But there will be others who completely hate your work. Get used to this. Negative reviews are part of a writer’s life and you can not allow them to hold you back from your work. When you get negative feedback, step back and take your time to digest it. When the feelings of hurt subside a bit, consider: is this opinion just spiteful, or is there any truth to it? Be honest with yourself because the negative opinions often hold the most important lessons we need to learn. Take in whatever constructive criticism comes your way and use it to progress. This does not mean that there will be no hateful remarks; there will be. With those, you must learn to brush them off and continue with your work. But never make the mistake of overlooking criticism that could make you a better writer simply because it was not tied up in a pretty bow.
- Play up. When I first joined the tennis team in high school, I was still learning the basics and was not very good. But the coach taught us an important lesson that can be applied to so many aspects of life: In order to improve, you must play against those who are better, more skilled than yourself. When you play against a stronger opponent, you up your game…you have to. I improved in tennis with this technique. And I continue to improve in writing using it as well: Play up by reading works that are at a higher level than your own. And when you write, use a dictionary and thesaurus to help expand your vocabulary while maintaining your voice. Always play up.
- Live and take notes. You should keep a notebook with you at all times to jot down ideas that come to you or interesting characters that you meet while running errands. Note their mannerisms, speech, clothes. When you take your walk in the woods, keep that notebook close by to capture the crinkling of the dry autumn leaves beneath your boots, and how the sound differs from those leaves that your dog treads upon. Note the smell of the forest and the sounds of the birds chirping, hiding high in the trees, their colors often left to your imagination. Write it down anyway. When you go on vacation and you’re relaxing at the beach or bungie jumping down the canyon, or whatever…take notes. Well, maybe not while you’re bungie jumping, but you get the picture. Inspiration can hit you at any time, in any place; always be prepared to indulge it.
- Own your craft. You need not be published to be a writer. You need no degree, no permission from anyone. You need only to write and to call yourself a writer. Once you make that commitment to yourself, you’ll take your writing more seriously, and you’ll be on the road to a successful writing career. Own it. Call yourself a writer. When someone asks what you do, say, “I’m a writer.” The proclamation will give you the confidence you need to keep moving forward.
- Commit to your writing time. Like with everything in life, practice is needed for improvement. With the craft of writing, our practice is both writing and reading, but as we’ve already touched on the reading part, let me stress the writing part. I’m not going to tell you that I write every day. But I do plan on writing every day, it is always my intention. It should be your plan as well. Some people journal, others don’t; it doesn’t really matter the form that your writing takes—all that matters is that you do it. Some write their best in the morning, others late at night. Experiment with different times of the day to determine when you are the most productive at writing, then schedule your writing for that time every day.
- Be the boss of your work. Sometimes editors (or others you meet along your publishing journey) will suggest changes to your manuscript. Often, you will immediately recognize the benefit of the changes and will even feel gratitude to the editor. But sometimes, you won’t agree with the suggestions. Similar to when you receive negative feedback, step back from the piece for a bit and give yourself time to consider the suggestions. Is the editor saying that something in your piece needs clarifying? Is she saying some portion of your piece should be removed completely to make it more succinct? Would that improve it? Consider her suggestions thoroughly. Many times you will be able to use the suggestions, in your own way, to enhance your work. But sometimes, you won’t agree with the editor. That’s perfectly fine. Your work is YOURS. You owe it to your work to carefully consider all suggestions for its improvement, but you also owe it to your work to deny changes that discount your voice, style or message. You’re the boss; never forget that.
Thank you for reading and liking this post. And if you have other suggestions for honing your craft, I’d love to hear them. Please share them in the comments.