1. Silvertide
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    Silvertide New Member

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    How does one commit to completing a story?

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by Silvertide, Dec 20, 2015.

    I know this is a common problem among writers, but I just want to know what everyone else does to inspire themselves. I've been trying to complete various stories for 5 years now and the farthest I've gotten is fully completing the outline of two stories and completing about four or five short stories. Once I completed the outline for the two stories I realized I didn't like them as much as before.

    The reason it is easier to complete short stories is because even if I spend a lot of time on them I'll never have to really commit to something long-term. I can finish a short story in one sitting. With novels, it's different. I'm sure everyone feels this way.

    I am afraid to commit because I don't want to put a lot of effort into the stories and characters only to give up later, because then all of that time and development was wasted and then I'm drained of creativity. This happens with role plays. I develop a character in a role play, but before I can even get to the best part of the development the role play ends and I never get to complete the story of the character which I have by then grown to really like. It feels like a waste- here I have this nice character but it has no where to go anymore.

    What if I really like a story idea and I decide to put a lot of effort into making the characters, which I never do 99% of the time, but then I realize that the story is stupid and it makes me sick just looking at it. Now those characters are just sitting there, unused, but quite developed. All of that effort- gone. I can't trust myself to stay committed, and so I end up not trying hard enough and the endless cycle continues. I am afraid of wasted effort. I want that effort to be worth it, but that is impossible to tell from the beginning no matter what story it is.

    How do you all take that risk?
     
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  2. Tea@3
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    Tea@3 Contributing Member

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    I am wrestling with this too. The initial fire or passion tends to fade over time, and that is disappointing.

    I know a painter who told me once that he must finish any painting within two weeks of beginning it or he gets bored and will never finish it.

    OTOH I have heard of some writers who pick something up decades later to resume finishing it.

    Perhaps you could look at each session as a mini-goal within the larger goal of the bigger story, and just try to hit that small goal every day with a vague impression of the long term target.

    Just a thought. :)
     
  3. TWErvin2
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    TWErvin2 Contributing Member Contributor

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    Three is no easy answer. You have to be willing to put in the time and the effort, realizing that at the end of the project (it reaches completion) there is no guarantee of success (however you might want to measure that).

    And getting that first draft finished is just the first step. You'll be revising and editing and improving it through multiple passes.

    Some writers set goals...completing so many words a week, or spending five hours a week writing, or whatever works for them. Others just fit it in when they can and press forward.

    In the end it's self-discipline and the desire to write a novel (or story), possibly with the goal for others to read it and enjoy (although some writers only write for themselves).

    I can say that reaching the end of that first draft is a big accomplishment and a real boost to press forward.

    Many people talk about writing and some actually sit down to start. But few of those actually persevere and get that first draft finished, and from there only a small fraction do what it takes to get that novel finished and in the best quality version capable by the writer.

    Writing is both passion and desire...but it's also work and study.

    I hope you're both two of the small fraction that persevere and finish, Tea@3 and Silvertide!
     
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  4. peachalulu
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    peachalulu Contributing Member Reviewer Contributor

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    You could be draining yourself by over planning. I did this once with one of my stories I just spent years planning and never got any writing done. I actually don't do much planning any more - it's very basic and kept more in my head than on paper or word doc.

    Another thing that stops me is I feel I don't have the point of the story yet. This has probably derailed more projects than I care to admit. I start writing them, get very excited and then realize everything feels empty - there's no point so I stop.

    You have to really examine why you're stopping. Boredom is a reason but at the same time - it's a feeling and it's temporary and you should probably ride it out. I've been working on the first draft of my novel since August - I've been bored many times with it but I ride it out. Why do I continue? - because in order to get anything publish I have to write and complete something, I also don't want to waste my time - it's easier to continue than stop and start something else ( because by then there is no guarantee I'd finish the new project ), and lastly - I want to see the book done. Persevere - it should be a writer's motto because it's what we do. Against all odds we strive to get our stories out there.
     
  5. Tea@3
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    Tea@3 Contributing Member

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    OMG you are eerily inside my head right now; I just realized that's what I've been doing.

    Tell me where to mail the check! ;)
     
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  6. Sack-a-Doo!
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    Sack-a-Doo! Contributing Member Contributor

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    IMHO, this is a legitimate reason for not going any further.

    On the other hand, though, it could be that you aren't looking past that dry, mechanical outlining process.

    The only way to know for sure which way you should go is to start the writing. If there ever was a spark, it'll come back and the writing will go well. If there wasn't (you were mistaken about there being a spark to begin with) it'll go in a direction you don't expect... and the writing will go well.

    So, what the hell? Jump in and see what happens. Second-guessing yourself isn't getting any writing done and that's where all the fun lies, right?
     
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  7. BayView
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    BayView Contributing Member Contributor

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    It may help to try to find a venue where you get feedback as you go. Most people aren't going to want to read individual chapters of a WIP written by an unknown writer, but there are quite a few writers who get their start in fanfiction before moving on to original fiction, and I think one of the biggest factors in that being a successful path is the ability to get feedback and encouragement as you go. It's a hell of a lot easier to write chapter sixteen when you've got a bunch of people still leaving comments on chapters one to fifteen, making predictions about where you're going, being excited about your story, etc.

    Just a suggestion.
     
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  8. Bookster
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    Bookster Banned

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    One possible reason that you have trouble finishing stories is something one columnist called 'finishing fear'. It's the sense that if you finish a project and present it to the world, and it isn't absolutely perfect, the world will judge you harshly and ignore future offerings. That's not true, of course, but is a reflection of your own insecurity, and has paralyzed creative people forever. As far as I know, the only cure is to gut it out, finish the story and submit it somewhere.

    I don't think any writer is ever 'drained of creativity'. The feelings you describe in your OP sound like excuses to me.
     
  9. tonguetied
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    tonguetied Contributing Member Contributor

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    I am not really familiar with fan-fiction but what BayView has said sounds logical, however I am fairly certain that BayView is a pantser and it sounded like Silvertide is an outliner so it may not apply as well. TWErvin2 and peachalulu have also given some good advice IMO. I would add that even if you decide that a particular effort didn't end up being all that you had hoped for it still is a great learning experience for you, and no doubt will be a stepping stone in the right direction for your writing.
     
  10. WriterMMS
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    WriterMMS Member

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    I try to spend at least 2 to 3 hours writing everyday. Some days i just stare at the screen for a couple of hours. Writing a novel takes 3 things commitment, effort, and most of all vision.

    I know plenty of talented people who lack vision, and because of that they will never make anything great, settling on being the work dog of someone who actually has a complete vision.

    Ghost writers for big names like stephen king and whatnot.
     
  11. Doctore
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    I think you need to get out of your head first of all. It's going to be really hard to think creatively if you're doubting, and or beating yourself up for past or possible future failures. This isn't the same for everyone, but if you have found that you are the type of person who if you don't finish something in a certain amount of time you won't ever? I think it might help to make small goals along the way. One of the things that make finishing so hard is thinking of the long haul. Like having to climb to the top of a large building and you're just at the first floor. It's too big to take in all at once, so perhaps take it a stage at a time. Another idea is to write the scene, or parts that come to you first and fill in the rest later. I call them builder scenes because they help to build the BIG scene to come, but they aren't that actual scene. I can say in the past I've had scenes that I was dying to write, but I had to get passed the builder scenes first and that slowed me down.

    If you're the type that can step away from it for a time and come back later, I suggest keeping notes on everything so that you don't forget your purpose and reasons for crafting things as you have.
     
  12. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    One of the things that struck me about your post is that you do finish short stories, but seem to get stuck in the 'planning' stage of the longer ones. Am I right in that you don't over-plan your short stories, but just get an idea and start writing? You can do this with longer stories as well.

    Can I make the suggestion that you don't plan your longer stories so much? I mean, obviously you will have an idea for your story and characters, and maybe even what you want to happen in it. But your story won't come to life FOR YOU until you actually start writing it.

    It's not the length of the story that's the problem, I reckon, it's the distance between you and your story. Outlining is a cerebral exercise. Your emotions won't be engaged. There won't be any surprises. You just plot and plan and fill in the numbers. And maybe what you planned to happen doesn't feel right, once y0u actually get writing—so you lose interest, and drop your story altogether. I figure the problem wasn't in the writing, it was in the planning. You planned stuff before you actually understood your characters yourself, and made them come to life.

    I was a pantser with my first novel, in that I created a few characters, a basic situation, and started writing a simple scene between two of them (not a beginning)—just to see if I could. Then I wanted to know how those characters got to that scene, so I wrote some scenes that happened before. As the story unfolded, I found myself getting excited about it. More and more excited. I started hooking the scenes together, then writing in a more chronological way, and couldn't wait to get to the ending.

    I wrote every single day that I was allowed to write, and it was the most fun I ever had. I allowed ideas to shift as the story progressed and I got to know my characters better (and my setting as well, which required lots of research, some of it done on the hoof.) I was always on tenterhooks, hoping things would work out right. I was never just plodding through a pre-planned event, just to get to the next pre-planned event.

    Of course this method required a lot of pruning and shaping afterwards, once I recognised what my story's theme was. However, the theme came through very strongly, without much conscious input from me, and the ending wrote itself. That's the fun of writing this way.

    I'll be writing my second one differently, in that it's a direct sequel to my first. I will be starting from a more fixed point, and I have a definite goal in mind, so I can't see myself deviating too much from my 'plan.' However, since I'm using the same characters, I 'know' them now, and won't do stuff with them that doesn't fit their characters. So in essence, this is just continuing my original story. It will be interesting for me to see how I get on. I have started writing (have four new chapters), but have stopped in order to get my first novel formatted for publication. However, I can hardly wait to get 'stuck in' to Opus Number Two and see what happens next.

    .........

    I don't do role-playing games, but I can understand your frustration at losing characters after you've spent so much time building them up. However, in a role-playing game, you don't have total control. Other factors (and players) will influence what happens to your characters.

    In writing, that doesn't happen. YOU have total control of what happens, so there is no risk and nothing to fear. Nobody is going to take your good characters away from you. You are the god in this game. You can do whatever you want with these new people you've created.
     
    Last edited: Dec 21, 2015
  13. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    That might work for some people. in fact some people on this forum are constantly asking for feedback and 'brainstorming' for their WIP. However, there is a downside.

    If you show your work to people after having written only a couple of chapters, their reactions may hamstring you. Their ideas for what your story should do next may derail your own ideas. These critics may get excited about your story—or they might go into hyper-critical mode and start picking it apart line by line, or tell you how it should be written instead. (Check out the zillions of Workshop entries on this forum, if you don't believe me.)

    If you're already suffering from a lack of confidence, this kind of reaction could be the final nail in the coffin of THAT particular story. Or it can influence you (prematurely) to change your story to suit the critics.

    I know I absolutely refused to let anybody see anything I was writing until my first draft was finished to my own satisfaction. All the ideas in my story are my own, although I made huge changes as a result of helpful feedback. But nobody else had a hand in creating my story—only editing it.

    I think showing your work before it's completed is fraught with trouble. It's a great idea to work out story problems on your own. You want to know if you've succeeded in telling the story, but if you can wait till it's finished to do this it will be your own story you're getting feedback on, not one cobbled together from other people's ideas as well as your own.
     
    Last edited: Dec 21, 2015
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  14. 123456789
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    123456789 Contributing Member Contributor

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    Look, you don't have to write a novel if you don't want to. If you like writing short stories, write short stories. Also, like Sack-a-doo said, realizing you don't like your story, post outline, is a legitimate reason to go no further. It's a common statement that one should not write if he/she has nothing to say.

    So, don't write if you don't want to. Of course, if you do have something you really want to write, and find yourself mysteriously unwilling, it may have to do with the fact that subconsciously you realize you don't know how to write, but that's a different story.
     
  15. BayView
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    BayView Contributing Member Contributor

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    Well, if the "write on your own" approach is working for you, then it's a great idea.

    But we're dealing with an OP for whom that approach is not working, so--not such a great idea.

    I totally agree that every writer has to figure out what works for them, and I totally believe that for you, writing on your own was the way to go. But I certainly don't think it's a principle that should apply to all writers, or even most.
     
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  16. Commandante Lemming
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    Commandante Lemming Contributing Member Contributor

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    I'm sure half of this has already been said, but a lot of us have been there. Here are my thoughts.

    1. Start by promising yourself that you're going to finish a novel. Set that as the goal from the beginning. Realize that it's going to be hard, at times it's going to suck, but that you asked for this and that the sucking is for a higher goal.

    2. Seeing you've already set Point #1 as your goal, keep reminding yourself that you are NOT ALLOWED TO QUIT, NO MATTER HOW BAD YOU THINK IT IS OR HOW BORING IT GETS.

    3. Join a writing group - preferably an in-person one rather than online, and if possible one where everyone is reading eachother's novels. That becomes not only a critique group but also a support group. Since my writing group started doing a "novel table" every two weeks, we've all gotten our projects on track, and several long-dormant or stuck projects have gotten moving again because we have submission deadlines. Accountability is the best motivation.

    4. Remind yourself that you are never allowed to judge your own work - you'll always think it's either better or worse than it is, because you're not a reader and all the developmental stuff in your head messes with your perception of the story. Show your writing to other people and let them help you decide whether it's good, bad, or (usually) just in need of some polish.

    5. Give yourself permission to write badly. Badly written scenes are sometimes necessary to move forward in the plot. If a scene sucks, it can be fixed when you start revising. Right now, your goal is to keep moving forward at all costs.

    6. This may be the most important piece - if you have a lot of different ideas, make sure you're working on the one you like the most. In my case, the reason I can keep working on my main project is that it's the one I don't get bored with and the one where I know the characters the best. Honestly, I have a secondary project that I know deep down would be more marketable than my main story - but I keep writing the main because I don't get bored in there and it's more developed. If you're writing a novel, your characters and your world almost become part of your social life. Think about it: You end up spending an immense amount of time with these people, even if they don't exist. So, they better be people who interest you rather than bore you - you have to consistently enjoy hanging out with them. So, if you have one novel concept where the characters just keep tugging at you and won't leave your head, write that one. Apply the same rules to selecting your imaginary friends that you apply to your real friends, and that will tell you which story has the deepest well for you to draw from.
     
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  17. 123456789
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    123456789 Contributing Member Contributor

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    Stephen King in On Writing, also suggested the "write on your own" approach.
     
  18. Commandante Lemming
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    Commandante Lemming Contributing Member Contributor

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    ...and it works for Stephen King but a lot of other big writers use groups (Heck, C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien were each other's alpha readers...that worked out all right). There are no hard, fast laws in this business, so really it's about trying multiple methods and seeing what works.
     
  19. KennyAndTheDog
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    KennyAndTheDog Member

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    This can be a really tough one. I have a really harsh friend, (in fact, she's my editor, but all you need is a friend you trust enough to be hard on you) and I tell her I'll have a first draft by such and such a day. If that day comes around and I haven't sent her anything she calls and shouts at me. Then she comes over and confiscates any wine I have in the house until I've given her the work. External deadlines are the only way I can do it.
    Some people find that's too much. If that's you then you need small, achievable personal goals. I'll do 300 words a day, or I'll finish this section by Christmas, or I'll definitely have a name for that character by the time Dr Who's on, or what ever.
    This only matters, though, if you really do want to write a novel. You don't have to. Short stories are a real and valid contribution to literature. So is flash fiction. And it's a really valuable skill too, I'm pants at flash 500. It's like a toddler met a typewriter.
    Work out what you want to do and treasure it. If it's still novels, get an angry wine thief or some smaller internal deadlines.
    Good luck
     
  20. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    I think what makes me nervous is not so much the ongoing feedback issue, which, as you say, is immense help to some people. If brainstorming works, and your writing improves to the extent that you finish your story to your satisfaction and get it up to publishable standard, then more power to your arm. If you don't mind other people's input to your story development itself, then fair enough.

    However, I do worry that if you lack confidence about your writing and show it around too soon—hoping to receive encouragement that you're on the right track—you can get a knockback from critics that completely derails the train instead. It takes a lot of confidence to be able to receive criticism and make it work for you. If you lack basic confidence, and are looking for validation rather than improvement, criticism can make you feel like you're wasting your time trying to write at all.

    If you've actually finished and polished your story before you show it to people, you will have confidence that you 'have written' and that you can complete something on your own. Then the idea of improving it via feedback may be easier to accept.

    I recall being told by several new writers (on this forum) that they'd received criticism from a knowledgeable ex-member, who said that their offerings were so bad that it was obvious they would never become writers. In fact, several of these new writers were and are actually very good, had written a lot, and did persevere. I am happy that many of them were able to rise above this unhelpful kind of feedback, but I fear some others of them were not, and have dropped out of sight. This is the kind of thing I fear. Negative feedback can be quite devastating if the writer lacks confidence.
     
    Last edited: Dec 22, 2015
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  21. EdFromNY
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    EdFromNY Hope to improve with age Supporter Contributor

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    I completely agree with @jannert on the matter of feedback. It's a double-edged sword, in that if the person critiquing your work knows what they are doing, it will be a very helpful experience. In writing the novel I am currently pitching, I got incredibly helpful advice from a member of this forum. But I didn't even offer my work to anyone for review until I was satisfied with it and had confidence in it, because then I could take any suggestions for what they were - ideas for correcting a flaw in the writing, rather than getting defensive and taking it as an attack. I also got a suggestions from a coworker whose family was from the place I was writing about. Most of his comments were unhelpful because my narrative didn't fit his preconceived notions of what that narrative should have been. There is also the risk that someone reviewing your story will try to force on you their view of what your characters should be like rather than what you want them to be. I recently heard from one member of the forum who was upset because a member of a critique group had perceived a character as being very Christian-like and therefore objected to her being portrayed as washing clothes in a river, naked. Except that the story was set in something like 600 BC, so there obviously was no such thing as Christianity. Moreover, the crit group member was projecting a particularly prudish interpretation of Christianity that didn't emerge until many centuries later.

    In my experience, confidence in your writing does not spring from flattery. It comes from writing and comparing your writing to quality published literature and seeing it improve. Then, when you've made it as good as you can, that's when you seek outside opinions.

    All of which is to echo the advice previously given by @TWErvin2 and others - the best way to stick to a long term project is to stick to a long term project. There may be times when you need to step away from it for a while. Having a creative outlet besides writing helps. Life intervenes (which is why I have never been a fan of daily or weekly word count targets). And if you get to a point where you honestly don't feel a project is working out, don't be afraid to move on or put it aside. James A. Michener once put a novel aside, thinking he had lost forward momentum, only to pick it up again 30 years later. The novel was Mexico and is one of my favorites of his.
     
    Last edited: Dec 22, 2015
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  22. Tea@3
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    Tea@3 Contributing Member

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    Great point, so true! "...does not spring from flattery" (all new writers need to take that to heart) I also like the 'comparison' thing you mention. Not to mimic, so much, as to get a grasp on the feel and flow of what established end products look like.

    And unfortunately, I think this is what 99% of 'green' writers are actually doing when they show something. I think nearly everyone gets 'burned' in their first few shares until each has to learn the hard way how to process criticism correctly. And as you pointed out, some new writers fail to learn that and beg off for good, which I agree is very sad.

    This very nearly happened to me early on. I told about it in another thread but, I got a golden opportunity to receive free mentorship from a famous author so I jumped on it. But the bad thing was I didn't even have enough to evaluate, had no idea what I even wanted to do or how to begin, so I couldn't offer him much to 'evaluate.' He forced me into this 'perfect the first page before moving on to page two, then perfect page two before moving to page three, then so on so forth.' It was a nightmare and sent me into a depression lol. I quit altogether, then two years later switched over to screenplays and grew my skills in that arena.

    As I look back now I see what the problem was, with that mentor. He was focusing only on the grammar/presentation of the words on the page, instead of 'what' the story was. Heck I didn't even yet know any basics of storytelling, as in how to invent things from thin air, so there was no need for me to BEGIN with 'polish page one then go polish page two...' lol But his harsh words and bloody ink covering my pages, that did hurt pretty bad and made me quit for a while. I later got over it and kept plodding. Finally I realized he may have been trying to help me but didn't know how to revert back to such rudimentary stages as 'think up a character and place him in a setting with a problem.'

    So I echo what @jannert and @EdFromNY are saying, about building one's own confidence first before opening up to criticism, so as to not take a chance on being derailed. (great word, derail, perfect for this context)

    Ed is right, new writers have to put in time and practice (dues? I hate that metaphor) with proper study to gain confidence. And, I'm not sure it's a process that can be rushed.

    I'd say as a litmus test, if the comments one receives sting too much, maybe it wasn't ready to be shared yet?
     
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  23. BayView
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    BayView Contributing Member Contributor

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    Again, though - it's going to vary based on the writer's personality.

    I don't have any problem with feedback - never have. I've always been happy to sort the wheat from the chaff, never had a terribly thin skin, never felt that my writing was being unduly influenced by others. That's me. So, for me, early feedback was useful back when I was starting to write because it gave me enthusiasm and prodded me to keep working.

    Will that advice work for everyone? Of course not. But I don't think I'm somehow unique among 6 billion people, so there are probably others out there who would react in a similar way.

    So if what you're doing right now is working for you (given your personal definition of 'working') then don't change it. If what you're doing isn't working, change it. That simple, really.
     
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  24. Tea@3
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    Tea@3 Contributing Member

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    omg your post should be bronzed. :supercool:
     
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  25. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    Wow. Another personal story that illustrates a good point to keep in mind. Just because somebody is a famous author doesn't mean this person is a good writing mentor!
     
    Tea@3 and EdFromNY like this.

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