Cutting Through the Crap to Become Better Writers

Although I’m having my first taste of traditional publishing success, I’ve
been at this writing thing for twenty years or so. I started by sharing little
vignettes with my family on paper, then my first serial (which I distributed
via email), then my first WordPress site shared via Twitter and Facebook, to
Wattpad (et al), to Kindle Direct Publishing, and now to a traditional

I want what we writers all want: to be read. If I can make money, even
better, but mainly I just want people to read and enjoy what I write. When I’m
publishing, I want numbers! I want stats. Views. Engagements. Purchases.
Shares. I can easily get drawn into that grind.

So what do we do? We do a lot of read-for-a-read kinds of strategies. I read
yours if you read mine. There’s a whole community of striving writers primarily
read by other striving writers to get more reads. I love the support I’ve
received from other writers and have given my fair share of support.
Unfortunately, much of the support we give is encouragement and cheerleading to
the point that we have tens of thousands of writers who don’t truly know if
they are good or not.

We think, “Dang! I’m really good! The writing communities I’m a part of
are really positive about my writing.” Or we think, “Am I really good?
Or is the writing community just trying to get theirs or don’t want to hurt my

On Twitter recently, a young writer posted a message a friend wrote in
response to a solicitation for feedback about their writing. The long and short
of it is that the friend didn’t think this young writer would ever be
commercially successful and went on to give a frank reason why. The writing
community JUMPED to the rescue and talked about toxic friends that need to be
cut off…blah, blah, blah.

But what if this “friend” was right? I mean, it’s probably true of
most of us struggling writers. Why wouldn’t it be true for them? If by success,
we mean get published and make legit money, yeah…sadly, most of us will fail
miserably. But do I want that young person to quit writing even if that is
true? Absolutely not! Why do we have to be pro-level good at everything we do?
Do you stop playing basketball with your buddies because you won’t make the
NBA? I would hope not.

I have a few loyal and honest people in my life who have no problem telling
me the truth about my writing. One such person read a manuscript for me. Mid
way through the read, I asked him what he thought so far. He said he was
enjoying it, but “David, when I read it, I’m not thinking that I’m reading
a professional writer.” Then, he kindly told me why. I took his notes,
worked my ass off, and sent him a new draft. I changed his mind, and I’m a
better writer because of it.

I was having a slow day at work years ago, and started a new thread on the
Wattpad forums entitled, “I will tell you why I won’t read your
writing.” It was the busiest thread for weeks. People were desperate for
honesty. Of course, it’s just one man’s opinion. I’ve been dead wrong before! But I proceeded to tell these
writers what no  one had been willing to tell them, including that yes,
I would read their writing. Some argued with me, but most thanked me.

I’m not sure why I’m not a raging success. 😉 I believe that I have some
ability to be objective about my writing. I know when I’m writing crap, and
I’ve also read books on a par with my writing that were doing very well. I read
some of my work and can see that there are passages or even whole chapters at
what I would consider to be a pro-level, but I’m not hitting it 100%. I want to
get to that point where every bit of one of my books is as good as the best
bits—consistency. The closest I have to that is Whiff and its more evolved cousin, A Whiff of Life and Death. In my other works, I can see glimmers of what I could
be as a writer.

In the software engineering world, we have what is a called a baseline. It’s
a known state of the software on which to build the next version. If you don’t
know what the baseline is and what it’s condition is, whatever you build on it
is unpredictable. If the baseline is crap and the engineers don’t realize it,
how can the next version be good?

As writers, we all need a good baseline for our writing. We need to know our
strengths and weakness. It’s no good to move blindly forward without any sense of
the quality of what we are doing.

I know what I do well. I can turn a phrase, writing active prose, create a
realistic character, and create a powerful emotional landscape. What I can do
better is create more conflict in the story and work more visuals into the
narrative. My grammar could be better.  I’m working on all that. And I have no doubt, that I will get there.
This is not rocket science; it’s known stuff. I believe I have enough of the
x-factor to be successful, I just need to develop better craft and encounter
some good luck.

But can we just be honest with each other? The best comment I got on my
writing recently was, “I gotta say, I think this is the most horrible idea
for a book ever.” Yeah, it didn’t feel good, but it was honest. I know
that if that same guy gave me a complement, it would also be honest. And when
my honest friend who read my “unprofessional” manuscript told me the
new version was good enough to make him weep at times (something he rarely
does), I knew he wasn’t just full of crap.