Wednesday, November 20, 2019

What I Know About Writing Could Fit in Thimble by Patty Smith Hall

I was once paired with a young writer who to my surprise, knew everything there was to know about the craft of writing. According to her, the writing groups she’d visited ‘just didn’t get her style.’ She refused to part of a critique group because in the past, they ‘tried to change my voice’ with corrections and suggestions. She finally told me she didn’t need nor want any help.

Bless her heart!

I didn’t have it in me to tell her that learning the craft of writing was a life-long journey or that the input of more experienced writers can propel you to the next level. She’d have to learn this the hard way like I did.

Yes, I had an unteachable spirit early in my career. In those first days, I was giddy with excitement over everything I wrote, certain that I’d enter a contest, win it and draw the attention of a big publishing house dying to publish my story. I thought I’d be on my way!

Boy, was I stupid! Not only did I not win, I didn’t even final, and the red marks on my returned entry covered so much of my work, I actually asked the contest coordinator if there had been a mistake. (To this day, I still cringe when I think about it!) When she gently explained there was no mistake, I understood the truth. Not only was I embarrassed, I’d sabotaged myself by not listening to the more experienced writers around me trying to help me become a better writer.

So how do you tame the unteachable spirit? Here’s three ways:

1) Admit you have a problem.

Be honest with yourself. When a critique partner makes a note that something is unclear in your writing, do you try to explain yourself? (A big no-no. Remember, you’re not going to be there to explain it to your readers!) Do you think any type of correction is an attempt to change your voice? Do you scoff at people who offer suggestions to your story? If you answer yes to any of these questions, you’ve definitely got a problem. The only way to grow as a writer is to admit you don’t know much at all. But take heart. None of us do, which is why writing is a life-long learning experience.

2) Grow a thick skin.

Years after the contest fiasco, I signed up for Jerry Jenkin’s thick-skin manuscript class. I even sent in my first chapter for one of the in-class critiques. It didn’t really hit me what I might be in for until I talked to a multi-published friend who said(with a look of absolute terror in her eyes) she’d never been brave enough to let Mr. Jenkins use his red pen on her work. But I had a reason for my madness; I needed a thicker skin if I ever wanted to get published.

Writing is a tough business. The truth is you’re never going to please everyone with your stories. Contests, while good, are subjective. Editors and agents are looking at what readers want and what sales. When you’re published, some readers will leave you a one-starred review even after admitting they didn’t read the book. So if you are working toward publication, you’d better toughen up. You can’t survive this industry without a thick hide.

3) It takes a village to write a book.

Writing is often referred to as a solitary job, and I agree to a point. Alone, we wrangle with phrases and sentences until we arrange them into the perfect combination. But writing a book also takes the help of many others; critique partners, mentors, your local writing group, agents and editors. These people walk alongside us, offering encouragement and advice, sometimes even reading your work for the twenty-fourth time just to help you fill in a plot point. Writing a novel is a group effort.

Now for the hard question—do you have an unteachable spirit when it comes to your writing?

Three ways to know if you have a teachable spirit. via @pattywrites #SeriouslyWrite #amwriting


Patty Smith Hall lives in North Georgia with her husband of 36+ years, Danny. Her passion is
to write tender romances based in little-known historical moments. The winner of the 2008 ACFW Genesis award in historical romance, she is published with Love Inspired Historical, Barbour and Winged Publishing, and is a contributor to the Seriously Writing blog as well as Journey magazine. Patty is represented by Tamela Hancock Murray of the Steve Laube Agency. 

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Bookish southern belle Madalyn Turner knows what she wants—to be a cowboy and own a Texas ranch. But books are far different from real life and soon she realizes she needs help.