I popped into a writers’ group on Facebook this morning and saw something so awful, so muse-crushing, so career-killing that I had to write to you and beg you not to make the same mistake.
That’s because I feel so strongly that you shouldn’t do what these two writers did. I’ve seen it stop writers in their tracks for years, if not forever.
What was this horrendous thing?
In two separate posts, this morning, I saw writers post their tender first efforts at writing (in their words “the opening of my novel”) in a forum full of strangers and ask for feedback.
Here are some of the responses they got:
Can you imagine how the original poster feels, reading this? !
Can you imagine writing anything else, after this?
And the thing is, some of the writing was quite beautiful!
But Julie, Some of That Advice Is OK…
Some of the advice in the thread was not what I would call ‘bad’ advice (except for the guy telling the writer to DM him. Ew).
I might say something like some of these things to certain writers who ask me for feedback.
Even the advice here that I might give, is wrong for this person, for a particular reason:
Each of the writers who responded is so focused on their own goal of publishing a novel that they are not giving an answer appropriate to the stage the original writer is in.
The Right Question
The real question—the one the original poster didn’t know to ask—was not, “Is this a good opening to a novel?”. The real question was, “Should I continue?”
And the answer to that is always “yes!”
That “yes” is not a promise that they will finish.
It’s not a promise that their piece will ever be a novel.
It’s not a promise that it will be a best-seller.
But everyone deserves the opportunity to express themselves in the art form that they love. And they deserve the chance to write badly, to experiment, to learn and improve, and to love what they do.
Accept No Imitations
Most writers lack a vision of the multitude of paths to fulfillment open to them.
Most of us have been conditioned to see only one avenue to ‘success’: publication.
And most of us accept the ‘common knowledge’ that this single definition of ‘success’ is the only way to be fulfilled as a writer.
And so, when we ask “is this good?” we get terrible, horrible, no-good feedback.
But that doesn’t mean you’re a bad writer, or that you shouldn’t be writing.
If you take one thing away from this article let it be this: Please, don’t ask for writing feedback from strangers on the Internet.
- Work to understand the stage you’re in, as a writer
- Find trusted friends who will give you feedback appropriate to your stage and goals
- Never ask for writing feedback from strangers on the Internet
- Guard your heart
- Decide on your definition of success: for you, for this project, for now.
- Believe you have a right to write
Do me, and the rest of the community a favor, would you? Post below about your definition of success today, for you, for your current project, and for now. Leave a comment:
Need a push to write this week? Listen to this podcast episode, then use the Short Story Framework to help you generate a new story this week.
32 thoughts on “Please don’t do this…”
Julie both you and this website and are wonderful. I’m so glad one of my friends recommended it. Your prompts are addicting and your story a day challenges always make me attempt and doing something for an entire month. (So far only get halfway. LOL But still something).
Thanks for posting this. Success for me in my writing (and life) is to write as authentically as I can at any moment. To be true to that voice and have the courage to be vulnerable. To keep writing in the top priority category of my life. To show up, write, and enjoy the ride. Sharing it is secondary – the juice I get from the creative act is primary.
My definition of success as a writer is to both grow in the craft and to write every day, whether it is on my larger project, a quick poem, an essay, a short story, or journaling. Putting words down on paper and truly thinking about the choice of words, the intent of the exercise, or the pure joy of putting pen to paper makes every piece of writing a success.
Great. That way you get to be successful every day. Brava!
I was appalled to read some of those comments. Someone should really do a seminar on how to critique without being a jerk. I’ve done some Beta and ARC reading, as well as critiquing in a writer’s group, and it was usually emphasized in the group that one can point out problems in a text without being rude, courtesy costs nothing, and one should put oneself in the writer’s shoes. If it were your baby you were putting on display, how would you feel to get comments like that?
I write for me, I write the stories that I want to read but can never find. Success for me is a piece that I’m pleased with, that presents the idea I was aiming for in a clear way that makes sense. If anyone else reads and enjoys it, that’s fine, but it’s not my primary motivation. And if someone else reads it and finds something odd, I look at it again and consider if it’s something I need to address. I always try to keep in mind that a critique should be aimed at improving your writing, not harming the writer.
Yeah, other people enjoying our writing does turn out to be the icing on the cake.
This is why I’m so protective of our Critique Week process. It’s probably the only place where I let the Control Freak flag fly!
AMEN!!! There are sooo many jerks out there who claim to be critiquers. Who claim to know what they are doing? But just say this is awful and leave it at that.
Been there never making that mistake again after i realized why I was writing.
Thank you for this Julie. Success right now for me is being consistent and not quitting for months at a time. I wish I would have had a great mentor and place like the Story A Day community when I was younger. People can have such narrow views of success and publication and writing is one example. Success for me would also be to change my view of it Success is keeping at an endeavor despite the words of net sayer’s and the crippling doubts of your own mind.
It’s a process, for sure, and I will keep shouting about this until I run out of breath 😉
Complete first draft that inspires me to turn it into a second. Great article, Julie.
You’re channeling Kat from the comment below; finish it so You can find out what it wants to be, and then work on helping it get there.
Thanks for the kind comments. This one struck a chord!
I agree not to do this. It’s almost asking for people to be at their worst, unfortunately. Find a group of writers who care about you enough to give good feedback in a non-soul crushing way. I remember Ann Lamott said, “You can cut with the sword of truth or you can point with the sword of truth.” I always try to remember that.
Success is probably just finishing for me. Finish the story. Edit it. Write another. Finish it. Edit it. There are other forms of success that come later, but I can’t have those until I find the first.
Such wise words: other forms of success come later, but we can’t have them until we finish!
You emailed me the other day and said something that has really helped me change the way I think about my writing.
Success to me right now is enjoying the act of writing. I love to write but for now and maybe for always, I do it for me. I am an extrovert. I love to talk and talk and talk… sometimes, well a lot of times I have more words than people have the capacity to listen. So I write. I get all the words out. Thoughts, dreams, ramblings, prayers, hopes, all of it.
People aren’t going to read all these words. I rarely go back and reread them because sometimes I have written some tough stuff that I don’t want to go back and reread/relive. I write like others paint or sing or run or do whatever they do to bring some peace and joy into their lives. Would I like to write stuff that others want to read someday? Sure, but I am not a storyteller, although I love reading stories.
I just like to write. If I get all my thoughts on paper most days of the week then I feel successful and the people in my world are at peace because they didn’t have to hear me speak all of those words again and again and again…
And don’t forget that all this personal writing we do acts like the meat of the Karate Kid movie: wax on, wax off! And When the day comes for a more public form of writing, your muscles are toned.
Thank you for this. I’m with other commenters who express gratitude for your faithfulness to this community. I need your writing.
For me this week success looks like showing up for a story idea, setting and characters that I’ve had running around in my head, turning them loose, then running behind them to see where they lead me.
Excellent! That sounds like a lovely version of success.
And thanks for the kind comments.
This week success is – fulfilling my obligations to give feedback. Listening to the feedback I receive openly. Showing up for my writing in whatever form it takes.
People are harsh on social media and that’s all there is to it. It develops their latent talent for nastiness and schoolyard role playing. It is very easy to be a tough guy when you’re separated by miles of wire from the point of the person you have belittled.
It’s best to scroll right past them.
Success and happiness is not defined by some kind of competition where you’ll always come up second best. We do it because it makes us happy.
Having said that, approach it honestly. Is the criticism justifiable or is it slag?
And-for heaven’s sake-don’t assume the victim role.
I suspect it’s less about nastiness (though there is some of that) but more about them simply spewing out the advice they most need to hear right now, and being impatient with people are too many steps behind for them to remember how it feels.
Glad to see all these comments. We seem to have a really well-adjusted community, here 😉
Agreed, Agreed. It is a nightmare experience for someone who is just starting to write stories. Who doesn’t know what they are doing and admits it. But still gets vile soul crushing non helpful critiques. Also, we’ve all done it as newbies putting everything in a story even a kitchen sink. We have to learn the hard way to get to get better.
Also, these people don’t like it if you say you are just writing for enjoyment. There is plenty of room for everyone at the writing table (metaphor). Whether we write for fun or monetary. I do expect criticism in my writing. That is the only way to grow. I know and get that that is a wonderful thing. That is how our favorite authors grew.
I just want the criticism to be not nasty and actually helpful. LOL
I hope the original poster is able to overcome the remarks because it’s hard after being crowd bashed like that. I’ve been there, and it took me a long time to gain any kind of confidence in my writing. I still struggle with the writing confidence at times. For me, I’ve considered it a success to get published and hope that my stories had an impact on the people who read them. A big success that I dream of achieving someday is becoming an award winning author.
I have read work by beautiful-and-talented writers and they still suffer from the “Should I be writing” question.
I have spoken to more than one award-winning writer who is still convinced (every time) that they’re not going to be able to pull it off, this time.
Writing is a vulnerable thing. I suspect we need a little doubt in order to keep pushing ourselves to be better, and that’s exactly why we need to support each other.
Congrats on your successes so far, and I look forward to reading your award-winning work!
Can I just confess that even though I hardly ever comment, your blog emails have always helped me stay on the path of writing. I haven’t been successful but I haven’t given up either. So thank you.
Honestly, if I get even one reader who doesn’t know me but is willing to read my work because they find it interesting… I’ll consider myself fulfilled… For now.
Then I’ll look for next goal…perhaps it would be getting 2 people who would stick with my work.
Today’s post was much needed. Thank you for sharing.
And don’t forget that going from 1 reader to 2 is DOUBLING your reader base. What other author can claim to have done that?!
Seriously thought, I really appreciate your comment and I’m glad this post hit home.
Staying on the path alone is tough, but you are not alone!! There are so many of us out here, writing because we need it, writing because we love it, avoiding-writing because of the voices in our heads (usually not OUR voices). Keep at it! You’ve got this.
I hope the author disregards the insensitive comments and keeps on writing!
As for me, a big success will be making enough $ to quit the day job. Then on to my first million. 😉
Success for my current project will mean writing the end to my short story today and getting it published.
I hope so too. I don’t think the comments were meant maliciously, just … not thoughtfully!
Quitting the day job with fiction is tough but do-able (if you’re interested in indie-publishing, checkout the 20 Books to 50K group on FB) and if not, but you still want to make a living from writing, I always recommend Jane Friedman’s book: The Business of Being a Writer.
And THEN onto the first million (why not?!)
Sending happy writing-vibes for getting to the end of your draft, today!
Thank you for this Julie. For hearing peoples question inside their question – the question they might not be able to articulate themselves. Should I continue writing.
And your invition to ask ourselves what our goals right now are…
for me, its to learn how to be a conduit for the muses, to cultivate the time and space and rhythm to let the muses speak through me. To learn the craft of writing in classes so that I can be a better instrument for that magical creative energy, so that I can be like an electric wire that pulses the energy from one place to another, to be an effective conduit of connection with the more than human world through story. If i feel more connected to the more than human world, and more integrated within myself, by the act of writing, then I’ve succeeded. If I complete a first draft of a story, that’s a success. If I go back and edit it and construct and reconstruct it, thats a success. If someday my work is publishable, that’s awesome, but success comes way before any of that.
High Five. Bookmark this comment and come back to it any time you’re feeling less-than-conduit-y!
My definition of success as a writer is enjoying the creative process, growing in my craft, and moving the world I’ve created from my brain and onto the page. Everything else is secondary!
Perfect goals, in my not-so-humble opinion. Hold fast to them!