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Newbies: Do your best and forget the rest

October 14, 2013

My mom is starting a writing class up in New York. As someone who’s been at this a while, it’s easy to forget the horror I felt when I took my first 20 pages to a critique group and passed it out. What if they hate it? What if they look at me and say I don’t really belong here? What if my work is horrible?

And yet, some of the people reading this blog may be going to their first conference, participating in their first prompt-writing session, or starting a critique group for the first time.

Here are some tips for you to remember at your first prompt-writing exercise, critique group, or conference:

  • No one sprang forth from the womb as an accomplished writer–not JK Rowling, not Stephen King, not even me. Every single person at your prompt exercise, critique group, or conference was where you are now. They probably felt like you do, like they were basically sitting there in their underwear or about to be marched to the gallows. And yet all of them are–with luck–fully clothed and none of them have permanent chafe marks around their neck.
  • A prompt is a warm-up exercise. It’s not meant to produce a finished product. When you write to a prompt, the goal is to jump start your mind, to get things moving, and maybe get a nugget of something you can use later. Anything beyond that is a product of God’s generosity and a blessing that should be valued highly.
  • The first draft of anything is shit. Normally, I wouldn’t use such saucy language on this blog, but that’s a direct quote from Ernest Hemingway. If he produced that with his first draft, you can be forgiven if your prompt writing is less than stellar.
  • Remember the 10,000 hour rule. According to Malcolm Gladwell, it takes 10,000 hours of practice to master something. That’s the equivalent of five working years. To expect immediate skill is silly, unrealistic, and kind of an insult to those who’ve spend years of their lives trying to refine their work. In other words, you not only have permission to not keep up, it’s to be expected.
  • Anyone who doesn’t support you–anyone who ridicules what you do or makes you feel small–isn’t worth listening to. Period. The problem in those circumstances isn’t you, it’s them.

Face it, a lot of people have been at it longer than you, so they’re going to be able to produce things you can’t. That gives you the opportunity to sit back, learn, and find approaches you can adopt for your own use.

Writing is a craft, not a competition. Your only real competition is with yourself, to do better over time. To improve. It’s not realistic or appropriate for you to look at my work or someone else’s and judge based on that. It’s best to look at your own.


One Comment
  1. Ron permalink
    October 14, 2013 7:21 am

    Morning words of reality and inspiration to start our day. Inspiration, rough draft are terrible. I knew there was something captivating about Hemmingway. Now that 10,000 hour guy he must be out of touch with the modern world! I have spelling and grammar check.

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