(This post was originally published on my new Tumblr.)
So, I love to read books about writing. I think most authors do. It’s nice to see what others think, and gain ideas, inspiration, etc. I have been reading “Walking On Water: Reflections On Faith And Art” by Madeleine L'Engle, and I came across something I had never thought of (quite like she puts it) before.
Of course, naturally, looking through the book I can’t find the section I’m looking for. Highlighter, why don’t I use you enough?
I will keep looking, and hopefully find it so that I can post the section, but I’ll sum it up here:
Basically, Mrs. L'Engle writes that we shouldn’t judge other authors – and yet most of us do, don’t we? I can’t count the amount of times I have said that I didn’t like a book or a writing style; I know that everyone does it at some point. She goes on to point out that every book has a home somewhere, and a person who will love it, and so it’s worth something whether we like it or not. Books change lives, whether those lives belong to us or not. And someone, somewhere, worked very hard on that book.
I’ve been thinking about this, and I believe that she’s right. And what’s more: the moment I stopped consciously saying I didn’t like a writer’s style, or that they were not as good as another writer, I felt oh so much better about my own writing. A sort of reverse judgement, I suppose – the less I worried about whether or not someone else’s writing was “good enough” or not, the less I worried about how someone else would perceive my own writing.
We can do our best – and we should, of course – but none of us is perfect, and that’s why we have room to grow. By not looking for faults automatically, and by focusing on the good elements of a story, even if it was not our favorite, I believe that we can actually learn more about the craft and gain further confidence in our own unique abilities.
We all have different styles, and that is good, because there are plenty of different readers out there. We can all learn something from one another, even if a style or subject isn’t our personal cup of tea. And we can all respect the work that is put into making the stories we write into beautiful things – different, yes, but no less beautiful.
So, when you find a book that isn’t to your fancy, don’t judge it quite so harshly. Look at it, and figure out what you can learn from this author. Maybe you felt the plot was lacking a bit, but the imagery was really fantastic – what made it stand out? Maybe the plot was amazing, but the characters were flat – what elements did the author deploy to keep you guessing? Maybe the ending was not what you were wanting, but the characters were realistic – what made you connect with them?
Focusing on the positive will lead you in a positive direction in your own work. Not only will it make you feel more creative, but it erases the sense of competition you might feel, and your writing will be given a boost because of it.
Writing isn’t a competition, it’s a way of life – and we all have a different way of living it.
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What are some things you've learned from books that weren't quite your cup of tea, but still had something to teach you?
Hello, dear readers, and welcome back!
I ended up taking a bit longer Summer Holiday than I thought I would, but it was very good, and I feel ready to dive into the new season (not literally, quite yet, of course).
There are some exciting things coming up this fall, but first I want to share with you a post that I wrote, about something I've been pondering lately. Also, be sure to check out my new Tumblr (I returned).
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Defeating "Success" To Be Your Best ~
The water's high.
The well is deep--
But what am I drowning in?
Or maybe I'm drowning from success.
When I think back to my young self, and what I wanted to be, one word comes to mind and stands out from the others: creative. Maybe for you it's a different word -- strong, fun, loving, smart -- but for me it was (and is) creative. I wanted to be excited and passionate about everything that I did and put forth effort towards, and you know what: I was.
Now another word has crept into my life; it probably creeps into all of our lives at some point--
What do we all want to be? Successful. Why do we want to be a success? Because we want what we do to matter.
It's not wrong to be to be successful, of course, but I'm sure I'm not the first when I say that that word and ideal can become easily restricting.
In my world, success means: doing well financially, having plenty of readers and review stars, to have plenty of sales. To be able to do everything on my own. But on a more day to day basis success looks like having a singular job, checking things off of the to-do list, and getting plenty written (that is viable and good).
If I don't have these things, I might very well feel like a failure as a writer.
Success has sometimes become, without my realizing it, getting a project done as quickly as I can -- not because I'm in the thick of the words and am enjoying the story, but because I want to get to the next thing.
But there is always a next thing, and what might we miss out on in the meantime?
I've struggled over the years to change my mindset when it comes to this, but it really is difficult, and sometimes I feel myself slipping right back to where I started: to the pursuit of ever-elusive "success".
I think it's about time that "success" packed up and left for good. I don't think any of us want to be confined by an ideal that doesn't suit us.
I like the saying "find your own version of success", but I also think it's difficult to keep "your own" from drifting back to what the "normal" vision of success might be. I believe that to really redefine success -- and maybe even defeat that cookie-cutter image of "success" -- we really have to be honest and dig deep to find out what it is that makes us feel like failures in the first place.
Then we have to truly examine this "failure", and see what we can do to steer ourselves back onto the road of our own version of success.
I spoke with a young writer the other day, who mentioned that others were cheering her on and said that she would be the next J.K. Rowling. When I first started publishing, I often told myself the same thing, but recently I realized just how unfair that is to the both of us.
No one can travel another person's road -- we all have our own path to tread. We are all better at something and worse at something than another, but that's what gives us room to grow. By trying to fit ourselves into another person's success, or seeing their success as the only way to be successful, we are limiting ourselves and might very well lose sight of our own dreams and potential.
When I taught a writing workshop back in June, I quoted J.R.R. Tolkien, one of my favorite authors: "Little by little, one travels far". I told them that this was key in writing, because writing happens bit by bit. I wonder why it is so difficult to take my own advice in writing and in life, but little by little, I seem to get better, to go further down the road of understanding.
I struggle with worry over whether or not I will get the right words onto the page -- whether or not those words will be well accepted -- how far those words will travel, or if they will travel at all. All too often I forget that one step leads to another -- that my words are my own and important, whether anybody reads them or not; that maybe only one person will be aided by them, but that one person is as important as a million.
Success comes in many different forms, and without the small successes, we wouldn't have the big ones. A chapter can be a success -- but a smile on someone's face can, too.
We really do have to find what success looks like for ourselves, and hold onto that vision, getting rid of the "success" that is not who we are meant to be -- getting rid of the burden, because it is a burden.
For me, real success looks like remembering to have faith that I can call on those words, and they will appear -- that I can finish a book in my own time, that I can help and inspire others, and that I can be creative, just like younger me wanted to be.
Are you tired of chasing after some ideal? Are you tired of being afraid of your words, just because you cannot see the impact they might have ahead of time? Are you tired of not living your dream?
Maybe it's time to change that.
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Remember: you can choose to be happy where you are, and where you're going.
Something to try: recently, whenever I'm frustrated, I've been dividing a sheet of paper down the middle and writing "lies I used to believe" on one side, and "truths I now believe" on the other. Write out your frustrations, and then find a positive way to flip them. It's done wonders. (Adopted from the book "Fierce on the Page", by Sage Cohen -- which I'm really enjoying).