As a child I often wondered what my life would be like at eighteen, twenty-five, forty, fifty. I’d picture myself as a take-charge adult, someone who has had things happen, good things. Marriage, kids, successful career, I think I imagined it all.
As a teen I began to write fiction novels, mostly keeping them to myself, for a long time not daring to let anyone read anything I’d written. Over the years I finally began to allow a friend or two to read something and invariably they’d say a little something good, maybe voice a criticism or two, and I tried to take it in my stride, not be offended, but when you love books and read a lot and then dare to write something and then ask other people who, by and large, did not read or write anymore than they had to, for their opinions, well, it didn’t always go well.
It took a lot of time for me to learn that I did need to take criticism but only from someone who knew what they were talking about. Someone who never cracks a book open doesn’t get to criticize my writing, any more than I would go into a mechanic’s shop and tell someone how to change a carburetor.
The biggest piece of advice I give aspiring writers is to read, read, and read some more. There is no better way to prepare to be a writer than reading and writing. Once you’ve conquered the basics of grammar and spelling and sentence structure, it then becomes about figuring out just how to put words together in such a way as to engage the reader. Like a lot of things creative, I find that people either know how to do it and just need tons of practice, or they don’t have it and there will be no teaching it. You can teach grammar, you can teach spelling, but putting words together is a different skill altogether.
When I wrote my first poem in my twenties, I let my parents read it and I’ll never forget the look on their faces. It was as if some new facet of myself had just been revealed to them. I’d surprised them, and this time in a good way. They saw something they hadn’t seen before.
I continued to write throughout my life, in between marriage, kids, and other things, and from time to time, I’ve surprised other people. Other family members, friends… they’re the ones you have to impress after all. The strangers who read your writing have absolutely no preconceived idea of whether or not you have any talent at all, they just read and enjoy it or don’t.
But the thing to remember is that I became more confident in my own abilities and talents, and didn’t have to be blown apart by some non-reader telling me that I should’ve started my book with the words “It was a dark and stormy night.” As if all books can begin that way.
Now I’ve got several books in print and spend a lot of time and energy writing, editing, and helping others be better writers, and I’ve learned a ton about who to listen to in regards to writing.
So learn, take classes, and read, read, and read some more, and for heaven’s sake, if you want someone’s opinion on your work, ask someone you can trust, someone you know full well is a reader if not also a writer. Nobody else gets to have a say. If someone gives you good advice, take it. If they give you bad advice or just plain criticism that is not founded in reality, learn to shake it off and keep plugging away. After all, you’re not trying to re-build a carburetor.