About Marya Miller

Marya Miller has been a member since February 22nd 2014, and has created 18 posts from scratch.

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How to Enjoy your Thin Skin

Don't let writing criticism depress youLast post, we talked about the gentle art of giving criticism. Receiving it is a whole different ball game — and it doesn’t matter who gives it. Number one thing to remember is that criticism will always sting … but it doesn’t have to destroy your self-esteem.

Here’s how it works. When you write first-draft, you’re getting your story down. That’s all.

Typically, the average writer does a lot of “telling” rather than showing at this stage, and if you share first-draft material with people you will almost inevitably receive criticism on everything from “telling not showing” to “head-hopping” to “spelling mistakes”.

If you can stand receiving criticism at the first-draft stage, you’ve just saved yourself weeks of revision time. You can use the comments you’ve received as a guide to what to tackle.

And here’s a tip: Think of criticism not as “criticism”, but as feedback — because that is what it is.

If you’re the sort of writer who is crushed to the point of extinction by people not unconditionally loving your work, don’t share first-draft material.

(There’s another even-more-important reason not to ask people to read your first-draft material: Unless you’re dealing with a conceptual editor that you’ve hired on your own, it’s actually disrespectful to force beta readers to read material that is not as polished as you can make it. And they won’t want to beta-read for you again!)

Why a Revision Checklist can Cut Down on Criticism

To avoid the sort of criticism that makes you cringe and give up writing, either share only small portions of your book or share only short stories with other writers — not Aunt Maisie or your best friend, Jill — or revise your novel or story before sharing, going through a “checklist”.

Using a revision structure or a checklist makes this process a lot less painful. You won’t get “lost” in the revisions and end up endlessly editing one paragraph for days until you’ve killed any spark of life in it. If you use a structure and/or revision checklist, you will feel like you know what you’re doing–and what you’re looking out for.

Here’s my basic revision checklist:

  • Head-hopping — Switching POVs (points-of-view)inadvertently
  • Telling not showing — Big clues: passive voice; “had”s and “felt”s
  • Foreshadowing — Do you need to insert foreshadowing events? Are you missing any?
  • Voice consistency — Does each character have a distinct, recognizable “voice”?
  • Plot holes — Fill them in
  • Scenes — Does each one advance the story? What changes in this scene?

And only then do you worry about the mechanics: Spelling, punctuation, grammar

Once you’ve revised your novel or story, taking care of the above, you’re ready to seek beta readers or send the little beast out to an editor or two. Even then, you will often get ruthless and not particularly gentle criticism, so don’t be disappointed if that happens. Let it smart for a day or so, don’t respond defensively or angrily, then assess each point and decide “do I agree with this? Would it, in fact, make my story better?” A good portion of professional or knowledgeable critique points will in fact do just that.

All Writers Receive Criticism

The bottom line is that all writers have to deal with criticism: Some exciting and helpful; some hurtful and unjust. And not all people will love your book. If you aim to please everyone, your book will become the ultimate wimp of books, so just tell your story, get it out … and make sure you are prepared for criticism. Even famous authors get ruthless criticism from agents, beta readers and editors. Well, maybe not top earners like J. K. Rowling and Suzanne Collins at this point in their careers — but look how disappointing, dark and off-course their final books the Harry Potter and Hunger Games series turned out to be.

It’s guaranteed: A writer who doesn’t allow criticism and refuses the advice of editors produces self-indulgent, unbalanced and often seriously bloated stories. No matter how famous they might be.

Thickening Your Skin: Try Writing Short-short Fiction and Join a Supportive Group

Flash FictionA great way dip your toe in the pool of writer’s groups, giving and receiving feedback: Join Holly Lisle’s free How to Write Flash Fiction that Doesn’t Suck. It’s a three-week course. You can work at your own pace, and you’ll be given access to her Flash Fiction forum, where you can post your under-a-thousand word stories (we aim for 500 words but no one rips your heart out if you go a little longer) and receive feedback from writers who care.

Holly Lisle has written over thirty published novels; most of them in the genres of science fiction and fantasy. She is that rare bird, an author who has had success in traditional print publishing as well as ePublishing, and who also understands the world of marketing and copywriting. Check out her novels as well as her books on writing … and when her paid courses open up, which they do occasionally, jump on the chance to join. Her “How to Think Sideways” course has been life-changing for me as a writer, and one of my other favorites — also causing frequent writing epiphanies and excitement — is “How to Write Page-Turning Scenes”.

Next post, I’ll introduce to another writer whose books and website are equally inspirational, but I’m off to do some writing for myself, right now.

Meanwhile, if you need an example of flash fiction, and you don’t mind fantasy, please visit my Marya Miller, Writer site and read one of my Flash Fiction stories on my “Fiction” page.

Keep writing!

The Gentle Art of Criticism

over-zealous writing criticism can make us despairAs a writer, informed criticism can be one of your most exciting learning opportunities. Without criticism, you could spend years holed up with your laptop, making the same writing mistakes, over and over again.

So welcome criticism: And if you feel particularly flattened by an over-zealous critic don’t angrily dismiss the criticism or write a defensive refutation. Realize that person isn’t as skilled as critiquing as he or she may be at writing. Go away, have a cup of tea, come back and write out what you are thankful for that your critic pointed out (ignoring rampantly silly points, like “I think Daphne would have worn red, not blue.”)

(Do this and you might be surprised to discover that one or two of the points they dumped on your head are helpful and valid.)

But what if you’ve received criticism from a professional such as a magazine editor?

First, realize that if a magazine editor takes the time to personally criticize specific points in your story or article, this means you are not a crappy writer! Magazine editors are busy, busy people. They don’t have time to waste on writing that doesn’t grab them. So take their criticism as an encouraging sign: They thought your story idea workable and/or they can see you have a spark of talent and potential as a writer and future contributor.

If an editor or agent criticizes points in a story or article, and asks for a re-write, do it! You’re in! Tackle the re-write point by point. Now is not the time for despair: Fixing a few sentences or cutting out a tangent is all that now stands between you and publication.

Don’t be overzealous

If you are in a writer’s group, taking criticism from peers, you will find there are two sorts: Pros and the over-zealous. A “pro” may be an established writer or a newbie—but what he or she is “pro” at is constructive criticism. Likewise, the overzealous may be newbies or seasoned writers with professional credits under their belts—but they suck at critiquing.

There are two common reasons for overzealousness: Number one is a nasty reason—ego tripping. There are those who just love slamming someone else’s work and telling them how to re-write it: The old “put yourself up by putting others down” routine. ‘Nuff said. If that happens, you are probably in the wrong writer’s group. Leave, and go find one where love of writing, not ego, is the focus.

The second common reason: Being over-anxious to contribute. You genuinely want to help. You want to prove you are a valuable group member. That’s fine, but don’t let these noble aims carry you away.  Remember that you are not just criticizing a story—you are talking to a real person; perhaps one who is sharing things through stories for the first time. Even the most experienced writers can feel flattened or overwhelmed if you find fault with every sentence or paragraph.

And do comment only on what you are asked to comment on. If someone wants you to look for spelling mistakes, don’t pull apart every concept or comma.

Resist the compulsion to nitpick

This not a post-mortem, in which every last shred of muscle or tissue is dissected and pulled apart—and it shouldn’t feel like one. A critique should feel more to the person whose piece is being criticized like a really exciting brainstorming session that sparks new insights or ideas.

If a story is really full of amateurish mistakes, holes and inconsistencies, realize that the writer won’t be able to put your brilliant suggestions into practice because he or she has not yet learned her craft. So don’t waste your time (and crush him or her) by dealing with each problem individually, if there are more than three “mistakes”: Make a general statement about the underlying problem and provide a link to what the writer needs next.

Example:

example of helpful writing criticism

 

 

 

If there are less than handful of things that really jolt you right out of the story, mention them—but don’t suggest how to fix them unless the writer asks for suggestions.

  • Right: “When the old woman throws the cat out the window, it feels out of character.”
  • Wrong: “Old women NEVER throw cats out of windows. I would have her put the cat in a basket, tie a length of kitchen string to the handle, and lower it carefully, ignoring the flames as much as possible.”

Never tell a writer what her character would or wouldn’t do. Only he or she knows. You can only comment on how an action strikes you and what it makes you feel.

Trust your writer to get your point and make his or her own fixes. Anything beyond that, and you risk frustrating, annoying or demoralizing your writer.

Make it a habit to criticize no more than three major points, or you will overwhelm and demoralize your writer. Consign the nit-picky stuff to “if she asks”.

Tomorrow, we’ll talk about receiving writing criticism–without letting it annihilate you.

Be the Heroine in your Own Life

sunlightDo you ever get lost in a TV program or a good book, to the point where you daydream about your heroine (or hero) and wish you could enter their world? That’s one of the most fun parts about being both a reader and a writer: But how much do you let yourself be the heroine (or hero) in your own life?

I don’t mean you should rush out and look for people to rescue or allow yourself to become some victim imperilled by a psychotic killer. Being a heroine in your own life is all about the small, quiet moments we take for granted: Sitting in your front porch, noticing how the sun sparkles on the window of a car parked down the road while your neighbor’s tree waves gently in the breeze. Feeling the crisp morning air while you sip your morning coffee. Staring at your little black cat while she stares enigmatically back at you.

Being the heroine in your own story is about stopping to notice where you are, who you are, how far you’ve journeyed, and what you have to be thankful for.

Say it aloud to yourself, putting yourself in the third person: “This is the life of _________, and right now, this morning/afternoon/evening, she is_____________ and ____________________.”

Stop and think what a miracle that is. Here you are, living your own story, able to choose:

  • Your values
  • Your beliefs
  • What you are going to do next
  • What goals you will set
  • How you will take action and move towards them
  • Whether or not it’s time for a rest
  • How you will choose to respond to any and every situation

So write your own story with appreciation, joy and courage; and above all, hope. It’s your story—no one else’s. You get to decide who the villains are, how you will handle them, and what you want the outcome to be.

hospitalThe villain might be an actual person from your past or in your present; or it might be an impersonal and implacable villain, such as cancer. What these villains can’t take away from you is the present moment.

You are alive, and you alone get to choose how you will spend that moment.

In that moment, you are in your own story—not outside of life; not bypassed because of disability, illness or loss. You are special, you are unique: No one else is doing what you’re doing, feeling what you’re feeling, and seeing what you see.

So take a moment to stop and be in “the now”. Take a moment to love yourself and your story, and thank yourself for being “me”.

Don’t numb yourself with busy-ness or distraction. Don’t wait for someone else to give you “permission”.

Make the choice. Be the heroine (or hero) in your own life.

Defining Yourself with your Writing… or Not

ArtistYears ago, in the early nineties, I had the oddest experience. I was grappling at the time with defining myself. Was I a writer? An artist? A musician?

The problem was, I was borderline “good” in all these areas, but instead of just settling down and concentrating on one, I would go through addictive, obsessive-compulsive bursts. At that moment in time, my current creative addiction was working on a cartoon strip about a heavy metal band, named “Forky Mendez”. But I also had to work for a living, so when a friend invited me to an entrepreneurial business seminar, I went.

The presentation was given by a fabulous woman with platinum hair, a hot pink business suit and stiletto heels–the epitome of Millionaire Success. As the presentation got heavily under way, my mind began to wander–and I “saw”, standing in the aisle in front of me, a large wolf with mesmerizing golden eyes.

It was a vision. A genuine, bona-fide vision.

Suddenly, the presenter broke off. Turned out that she was also an authentic medicine woman, with thirty-five years Native American apprenticeship/training behind her. She told us that “Wolf” was standing in front of her, insistent that he had a message for someone in the audience.  The vision was so strong, I knew it was for me.

“A Message from Wolf”

pawprintShe asked if people would mind if she delivered the message. They seemed intrigued, and quickly told her to get on with it. She began to walk down the aisle towards me–and stopped, turning to a woman over to my left, some rows ahead. She began to give the woman a message about being a caretaker to her mother, addressing doubts and fears she was facing. I remember feeling astonished, while the Wolf continued to stare at me. (“But the message is for ME…”)

She finished her message, and started to walk back up to the dais. Then she turned round.

“There’s one other person… Wolf isn’t finished yet.”

She walked up to me and said this (nearly word-for-word, as I remember it):

“You’re at a crossroads. You’re wondering which path to take–should it be art? Music? Writing? Wolf says, the answer is this: YOU are the medium. You are the artist. You can choose whichever communication media you like: It doesn’t matter, as long as it’s the best one, that day, for delivering the message.”

She then went on to describe how Wolf had suddenly transformed into her minds eye as a “cartoon wolf, with a fat cigar”–which I found interesting, considering I was currently absorbed in cartooning.

She did not know me. I was just a face in the audience and she was just a hot-millionaire-type presenter in a hot pink suit, but that was the message. And I saw a Wolf.

Make of it what you will. I’ve never been into New Age stuff or the Woogie-woogie. I didn’t wear crystals or frolic naked in the moonlight on Samhain. My fantasy life/outlet was strictly limited to voractiously reading books like Tolkien’s “Lord of the Rings” and Ursula K. Leguin’s Earthsea books.

But I never forgot what that presenter said; and I’ve never forgot “seeing” the Wolf, with his hypnotic yellow eyes.

How do You Connect?

Does it make me a better writer/artist/musician?

I’d like to think so. But it is what it is. (Many experts would say that not specializing detracts.)

Does it make me a great one in any of these areas?

No, of course not. I’m still on the journey. But during ten years of being a musician, another ten as an artist and the current ten as a writer again, writing has always been the one thing I’ve never put aside: And if I’m not writing for a creative outlet, then I’m working in the field. (I’ve been a magazine and newspaper editor, newspaper general manager, freelancer, and I’m currently a ghostwriter rediscovering poetry and fiction.)

I’m far from the best in any of these fields, and still happily learning, but ego is gone from the transaction: And that’s where the need to define can actually hamper. Nowadays, I love every new thing I learn, whether that be technique, trick, fact, factoid or earth-shattering revelation.

It’s all about communication. It’s all about being alive and connecting with others.

It’s all about the joy.

What keeps you writing? Why do you love it? How do you connect?

I’d love to know.

Making Money Writing when you have Health Challenges

Rainbow ladyWriting is an online job it is possible to do really well when you have health challenges or any sort of chronic disability. You don’t need the ability to run five miles before breakfast: You just need a computer, some sort of affinity for writing and a specialty you like to write about.

Here are my five keys tips to becoming an online copywriter or ghostwriter and quickly making money or even making a living at it, as I have been doing since 2008.

1. Start “light” but not small

Give yourself extra lead time. Realize that if your health is unstable or a particular challenge slows you down, you will need to schedule yourself accordingly.

Resist the urge to push yourself or take on more projects. Allow for bad days, treatment days, recovery days or trips to the emergency department. Don’t take on too much, and keep your workload light till you can accurately gauge your perfect work balance. (You’ll find it!)

2. Specialize in what you do well

This doesn’t just mean “become a fashion copywriting specialist if your thing is fashion”: It also means “learn what you don’t do well—and drop the stuff that stresses you out or loses you income”.

For example, I no longer write blog posts for clients, because (tracking my time—including research and editing time) I discovered I usually lost money on writing blog posts. Nowadays, I specialize in eBooks and training courses.

3. Charge a competitive rate

Don’t let your health challenges erode self-respect. You are working for a living. You are doing everything you can do to provide great copy for your client—on time. Just deliver what you promise and say “thank you very much” for the payment.

4. Reduce stress

If you are living with any sort of chronic disability, you already have enough stress. Simplify your life. Remove anything that adds to stress, because stress can aggravate your condition.

That means removing clutter, people who stress you, self-inflicted responsibilities or anything that isn’t necessary to your successful functioning or happiness. This is one time it’s crucial to be “selfish” (and it’s not selfish at all!)

5. Get yourself out there

People may have already told you that you have to run a blog, create a Facebook Page, get Twitter and LinkedIn accounts, post via Instagram et cetera, et cetera. (It exhausts me just writing that sentence!)

While this may or may not be true, there is a MUCH easier way to network and connect with peers and potential clients and get yourself “out there”. Join an active, passionate online writers group or forum dedicated to the specialty you write about. Your specialty forum will keep you in touch with your clients’ audiences (and breaking news for your niche): Your writers group will keep you in touch with writing peers and potential clients, agents, and publishers.

If you write helpful posts and share helpful tips and resources, they’ll soon get to know you—and you’ll be building your reputation, socializing, making connections and having a lot of fun and “down time”, all at once.

Better yet, join a writers group or forum with a job board—like WriterHelpWanted. You’ll be surprised how effortlessly you pick up your first paying clients (plus lots of advice and training on dealing with same!)

WriterHelpWanted services and resources