1. Snoopingaround
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    Snoopingaround Banned

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    Am I Improving?

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by Snoopingaround, Aug 11, 2014.

    How can a writer tell if he/she is getting better, in general terms, at the art/skill/craft of writing? I mean, there aren't tests available. And maybe your critique group if you have one is wrong. Is there an objective, really reliable way to tell if you are getting better as a writer? You can't really rely on your own feeling about the matter, not entirely anyway, can you?
     
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  2. thirdwind
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    thirdwind Contributing Member Contest Administrator Reviewer Contributor

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    At the end of the day, you have to use your own judgement. Assuming you practice writing and read a lot, you should eventually develop a standard for good writing vs. bad writing. You can then use that standard to see how your writing holds up. It would be nice to have an objective standard, but unfortunately there isn't one.
     
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  3. AndyC
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    AndyC Member

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    Well, I don't think you'll ever be totally comfortable with your writing. You'll always feel you can improve, and that's perfectly fine. I'd really worry if someday I feel my work can't improve anymore.

    But, at least for me, it helps to compare old writings vs new ones. As thirdwind said, you eventually start to develop a standard on what good writing should, and should not, be. Therefore, based on that, you can always compare your new writings with old ones and, perhaps, works of other writers.

    As for the "objective standard": No, neither do I think there is one.
     
  4. A.M.P.
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    A.M.P. People Buy My Books for the Bio Photo Supporter Contributor

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    I think you know when you look at your earlier work and easily see how terrible it is.
    Not terrible because it was some youthful thing but terrible because you see flaws everywhere.
    Being able to detect those flaws and not redo them again as often is sign of growth.
     
  5. minstrel
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    minstrel Leader of the Insquirrelgency Staff Supporter Contributor

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    There isn't an objective standard. If there were, you could program a computer to write well.

    As it is, the only thing remotely objective about writing is SPaG rules, and even they are flexible. Everything else is subjective. That doesn't mean, though, that everything is good. It means that we need educated tastes. Any old crap can appeal to a young kid with a limited experience of reading. As a person grows, reads, and gains more reading experience and life experience, we develop more mature tastes. Now, suddenly, we demand a certain set of qualities in our literature. We want things like well-drawn characters, plots that make sense, prose that shows a degree of consideration for art, and themes that are meaningful to us as modern humans. Laboratory instruments can't measure these qualities - we can't agree on them ourselves! - but they exist and they are what we're looking for in good writing.

    When you were growing up, every year on your birthday your mom would stand you up against the wall and mark how tall you had become. (At least, that happened to me.) It was a simple measurement. You could easily measure your growth over time. But measuring your growth as a writer doesn't work like that, because there are many dimensions involved and many scales used for each dimension. It's complicated. I guess we have to live with that.
     
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  6. JamesBrown
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    JamesBrown Active Member

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    I think the biggest battle any creative person has to face is the one against self-delusion. It is like 'ugly baby syndrome.' You look down at your precious little child and wonder at it, oblivious to its chubby little face and squashed nose
    which everyone else can see.

    You always have to remember a novel is not your baby and will not get upset if you decide to throw it in the bin and start a new one, or if you hack great pieces out of it.

    It is important to only look for what is wrong with it, rather than what is right.

    I like to imagine that I'm standing on a stage, reading my novel out to an audience with M16s and Ak-47s, and if ever they get bored they will open fire and shoot me down in flames.

    The problem ultimately comes if you can neither see what is wrong with your work nor how to put it right.
     
  7. 123456789
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    123456789 Contributing Member Contributor

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    There are some measuring sticks.

    If you put up (send out) several works, and not one person LOVES any, you know you're probably (unless you're a misunderstood genius) not that great yet. If you get a lot of "I liked it"s, you're probably not that terrible, but probably not very good. If you're getting majority vote criticism, and not one head over heels fan, you probably got a lot of work to do.

    What I think everyone should strive for is one die hard fan. Getting more than one is the next step, but at least get one.

    There's also the question of interpreting praise. If someone tells you your piece was great, but then you find out they're telling lots of people that, well then, maybe that doesn't really count all that much.
     
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  8. bythegods
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    bythegods Banned

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    Identifying improvement is easy. Yes, it really is simple - but you will need to be patient and well organised.

    Here's what to do;
    1. Store every piece of work you create on file, along with the date.
    2. File it away and resist the temptation to look at it for at least a year.
    3. Every so often (perhaps a year?) do an 'audit' of your own work, revisiting old pieces.
    4. I guarantee that you will now go from 'fond creator' to 'harsh critic'.
    5. You won't feel emotionally attached to your old work the same way you might do if you were reviewing fresh work.
    6. Create a timeline and assign your observations of the old work, from oldest to newest - see how far you've come!
    Keeping an emotional distance is essential to reviewing writing. My technique is designed to minimise interference.
     
  9. minstrel
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    minstrel Leader of the Insquirrelgency Staff Supporter Contributor

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    I massively disagree. It is equally important to know what you're good at. If you don't, you're in a "Got any threes? Go fish" kind of scenario, where you never know whether you doing something good, you only know if you're doing something bad. That's not how to learn.

    I cannot imagine how this can improve your writing. It will definitely improve your duck and cover skills, though. :eek:
     
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  10. JamesBrown
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    JamesBrown Active Member

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    I'd agree with this to a certain extent, but I think knowledge that something is good is more intuitive.

    If think there is a basic rule which I carry over from my other creative endeavour music: If you're not sure about something it means it's rubbish. That is almost always true I.E. If you're not sure whether or not you're singing in key it means you're not singing in key. And if you've got something in your writing you're not certain of, in the end you realize what you always knew deep down.

    Each time you improve it allows you to look back at your earlier work without the self-deluded emotional investment attached to it.
     
  11. edamame
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    edamame Contributing Member Contributor

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    I have some pieces of writing I did ten years ago that I can laugh at because it was so bad but even I have trouble telling if I really improved compared to a few years ago. I think our tastes for what is good writing develops a lot faster than our ability to write it, unfortunately. :p

    I did get one reader comment once upon a time, that they liked my recent stuff, and that put me over the moon.
     
  12. TWErvin2
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    TWErvin2 Contributing Member Contributor

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    As has been said, you can compare earlier works you've written with what you're writing now. Being honest with yourself, reading, observing and studying, and then applying what you've learned will help you improve. Just writing and writing won't necessary get you anywhere.

    Obtaining objective opinions is more difficult. A crit group or trusted readers can be a window into this.

    Whether your work is accepted by editors/publishers and/or readers (especially if self-publishing is the chosen route) is probably the most objective. However, even that can be skewed up to a point by marketing, reviews and other factors.

    Reading your work aloud and then listening back to it (or if you have a quality text to speech program--which is less effective) might give another glimpse as to the overall quality of the writing.
     
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  13. aikoaiko
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    aikoaiko Contributing Member

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  14. aikoaiko
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    aikoaiko Contributing Member

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  15. Renee J
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    Renee J Contributing Member

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    I just hope people understand what I write. In another forum, I posted the first three sentences of my book. In my mind, each sentence built on the previous one. But, when other people read them, they were "all over the place" and they didn't know what was going on. So, I can try to fix that, but I don't know how to tell if I really did.
     
  16. BookLover
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    BookLover Contributing Member

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    Does anyone want to pay you money for it? If so, I'd say that's a decent sign that you've improved.
     
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  17. T.Trian
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    T.Trian Overly Pompous Bastard Staff Supporter Contributor

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    @KaTtrian and I edit and rewrite our novels a lot, so naturally we also save old versions for nostalgia's sake but also to show us the pace of our development. Generally we can withstand reading 1yo material, but those are full of mistakes and bad writing, 2yo versions are borderline bearable although even more saturated with literary horrors, 3yo is pushing it, but 4yo and and older are getting downright unreadable. I tried reading something we last touched 5 years ago and I couldn't get further than the 1st chapter and I only got that far because of the story's sentimental value (it's the first one we wrote around 7 years ago).

    Beta-readers help a lot as well. For instance, if they (especially new ones) no longer spot some faults of ours we first got criticized for, chances are, we've managed to eradicate most instances from the story or our writing.

    Of course it's easy to tell when you stop repeating some blatant mistake, but the above methods of measuring your development give at least some idea where your general skill level is moving.
     
  18. jazzabel
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    jazzabel Contributing Member Contributor

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    There's one person who can tell, and that is the writer him/herself. If you study carefully your favourite novels, and work actively on improving, you will be paying closer attention, view your own work with more scrutiny. And you'll both be able to recognise when you start writing on point with more ease, as well as you will recognise when your sentences have that confident flow of good published novels. There might be some time before you reach this level, though. In the meantime, read, write, learn, scrutinise. It'll come.
     
  19. peachalulu
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    peachalulu Contributing Member Reviewer Contributor

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    I do what KaTrian & T. Trian do - I keep all my drafts separate. Even if I want to work off a draft I copy and paste. There's a real difference in working in drafts and seeing each thought process for each draft rather than deleting or erasing things. If you find yourself panicking while you write you can open a former first draft and usually find it's par for the course - especially if you can open up a last draft on a work and see that's what you're striving for, that it doesn't just happen. There are stages you must go through.

    Get a variety of feedback. You need people you can trust but you don't just need someone pointing out your flaws, you need encouragement too.

    I have to admit though, it is hard being your own judge. Sometimes you think you're deluding yourself. The thing to eliminate is pride and ego and work from a level of raw honesty. Which is damn hard.
     
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  20. T.Trian
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    T.Trian Overly Pompous Bastard Staff Supporter Contributor

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    The opposite can also be a problem: often we are way too harsh when judging ourselves and can't see the development or the things we're actually good at. All we see is the negative stuff, the weaknesses. That's where encouragement as well as old, crummy drafts come in, to prove you that you're not totally hopeless.
     
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  21. EdFromNY
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    EdFromNY Hope to improve with age Supporter Contributor

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    It helps to get critique, but don't just accept the advice given. You have to understand why the critic's way makes for better writing. For example, a beta reader pointed out to me that the way I structured my paragraphs and attributed dialogue made my writing harder to follow. Well, the last thing a writer wants is to make their writing harder to read, and this was the kind of error that's hard for the writer to catch because I already know my story, so as I read through it, I'm not going to necessarily recognize what the reader, who doesn't know what I know, will miss.

    I made the suggested changes. Then I started reading ahead, to chapters the beta reader hadn't yet reviewed to see if I could spot the same mistakes on my own. Sure enough, they jumped out at me, as did other things that she hadn't mentioned. I had internalized the suggestions and it clearly made the story easier to read. That's improvement.
     
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  22. T.Trian
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    T.Trian Overly Pompous Bastard Staff Supporter Contributor

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    And not all critique is merited or useful to you: sometimes, especially when a beta is critiquing something that's a matter of taste, you have to make a judgment call. Some readers don't always get your vision, some just won't like it even if they get it etc. That's pretty common when a beta is used to a different genre, like I'm a horrible beta when it comes to romance novels 'cause I tend to read them like I would any old sci-fi, fantasy, or action piece which doesn't always work that well.
    But, of course, one also shouldn't hide behind that: "I'm perfect, they just don't understand my awesomely artistic vision."
     
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