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On Critics

January 21, 2008

Marie was short. She wore hip little pink rectangular glasses that perched on her nose and set off her dark, square-cut hair.

“Stacey,” she said to me one morning, her feet propped on a melamine writing desk, her bright pink pen whizzing over my latest masterpiece, “I just don’t like your writing style.

“It’s so … it’s so …” she paused, dramatically. “Verbose.” She slashed the pen across the paper, killing whole paragraphs of my writing, leaving it bleeding on the page.  I remember staring at her, feeling bruised and maligned, and thinking: I don’t like you very much, you short, obnoxious girl.

She was the baby in my creative writing workshop, a sophomore among seniors. But her writing stood out –sharp and clear. I still remember an essay she wrote about holding her grandmother’s hand when she died. I could feel the texture of the quilt over grandma’s legs, and could all but taste the sunshine and dust motes as they danced on the wood floor.

Despite Marie’s decided lack of tact, she was right. I’m wordy. And sometimes awkward. So, I was shocked and honored to be tapped by Jen for the ROAR for Powerful Words Award/Meme.


This is the part where I am supposed to impart some of my great wisdom about the art of writing. So many others have shared fantastic tips – but I’m happy to pass along a few lessons I’ve learned – or am in the process of learning.

Do it now: There is no magical muse just waiting to whisper beautiful stories in your ear. You cannot just sit around waiting for inspiration to strike, because if you do, it never will. Most successful writers are successful because they make writing a habit, a daily practice. I was my best when I was writing for a newspaper and required to produce something every single day. Clearly, I’ve gotten out of the habit, and my blogging is suffering.

Come to your senses: Whenever possible, show, don’t tell. Let the reader connect the dots. Don’t just say, “I love chocolate!” If you do a good job using sensory images – how did the chocolate look, taste, smell, feel, sound? – then the reader will get the point. You most definitely don’t need to hammer the point home by stating the obvious.

Let it go: Possibly the hardest thing about being a writer is dealing with criticism. Editors will tear your carefully crafted words to bits and reshape them. Some editors will do a better job than others, but you can learn something from all of them. The best thing you can do as a writer is let it go. Birth your words, let them go, and then write some more. Don’t get discouraged when your words are rewritten, just keep writing.

 I’d love to read some tips from Quinn at the QC ReportAntique Mommy, and Jeana at Days to Come.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. January 22, 2008 1:14 am

    Thanks for sharing your tips! That whole show-don’t-tell thing is so important. I love it when I read something that makes me understand exactly what the writer was seeing or hearing at that moment, and the opposite style of writing drives me crazy. Beth has a children’s book right now that has a lot of phrases like “she whispered lovingly” and “he looked at her sadly.” I’m considering hiding it for awhile, it’s getting on my nerves so much. Maybe I need to find the author’s website and send her a link to this post…

  2. January 22, 2008 7:49 am

    Birth four children, for endless fodder.

  3. January 26, 2008 5:45 pm

    These are great tips! I think #1 bashed me over the head at the end of the summer, all, “What are you waiting for, exactly?” and I’m so glad I finally listened! I’m working on #2 and #3. I think in my revisions I’ll prune a lot of sentences like the ones that irritate Jen above. 🙂 And having friends–and, sweet monkeys, Steve, king of tact!–read my work has been a lesson in taking constructive criticism. But I know I & my work are so much better for it.

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