Understanding the Psychology Behind Improving My Writing

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I know I’ve been around and around with this before (and I seem to complain a lot), but in the last couple of days, I’ve finally come to understand how I got here.

My first pitch resulted in “Send me a full”. That tells me I have something worthwhile. I can write. But at the same conference, I learned that I’m not there yet. I learned that I didn’t even know what I didn’t know.

To my logical brain, that meant I needed to work to improve my writing before sending in my manuscript and facing rejection.

And there’s the rub. Fear of rejection.

When I was young, I paid special attention to all those “lessons” they try to teach kids. Learning from others’ mistakes seemed the guaranteed way to keep from making so many myself. I worked hard to do right and endear myself to those in authority over me. After all, the lessons taught me that peer pressure just made people do stupid things. Listening to adults and experts was the way to go.

The problem with this is that writing experts don’t agree. There’s no standard to follow because it’s all subjective.

There are as many how-to books on writing and editing as there are writers and editors. Some of them say the same thing in different ways, but none of them can ensure that you apply the proper lessons to your own work.

In The Art of War for Writers, James Scott Bell had this to say about backstory:

I was in a crowded elevator at a writers’ conference after teaching a class on great opening chapters (wherein I had been cheeky enough to use one of my own as an example). A bespectacled fellow complimented me, then added, “I did notice, though, that in the opening chapter of your novel, you had backstory. The rule is no backstory.”
Almost everyone in the elevator nodded in silent agreement.

This was under the title, “Give Backstory the proper respect, and it will help readers bond with your characters.”
And that’s just one rule that has gotten blown out of proportion (and proper understanding).

So how does one navigate the revision process with confidence and not bloated arrogance? How do you ignore the bad advice and find and apply the right “rules” to the story? How do you even know what’s best for your story?

I’m still trying to find out.

But at least I know that fear of rejection and a desire to make no mistakes are part of what is driving me.

In any enterprise, quality is job one. Quality is defined by two things:

1. Appeal of the workmanship
2. absence of defects

Never flag in the pursuit of writing excellence, for that is your workmanship. The Japanese were inspired by the concept of kaizen, the philosophy of seeking constant improvement in all aspects of business, every day, all the time.
At the same time, keep learning about the common defects found in unsuccessful writing and in the operations of the publishing world—so you won’t engage in them.
Sun Tzu wrote: “He wins his battles by making no mistakes.”

Next time, I’ll talk about another step I’ve taken in the pursuit of finishing this revision.

More information on James Scott Bell

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