When Writing Goes From Fun to a Frustrating

Question: A long time ago, when I first started writing, I did it purely for the enjoyment of making interesting characters and events. Once I started to take it more seriously, however, and began learning what other experienced writers had to teach, I suddenly realized that I was doing a lot of things wrong.


The more rules I learn about writing, and the more writing I see by other writers that write the same type of things as me, the more disappointed in my own work I become, and as a result my characters and overall style seem to be suffering for it. I'm worried that I'll either never be able to write as well as the people who know the rules better than me, or that by learning the rules myself I'll lose the ability to enjoy writing altogether. Is this a flaw in my expectations? A harsh truth of "the business"? A phase that all writers go through that I just haven't been informed of?

Any advice you have on the matter would be greatly appreciated, if only so I can know at the very least what I should be trying to come to terms with.

Answer: My philosophy is that the best thing you can do with theory, rules, etc. is to use them to open up possibilities that you can be excited about.

If you use them simply to beat up on yourself or to tell yourself how lousy your writing is, you've missed the point.

Unfortunately, a lot of writing groups, courses, etc focus on telling you what's wrong with your writing (ie how you broke the rules). That can be helpful, if you are a strong enough person to listen to all that criticism, decide what's the most useful among the comments, and revise your work to make it better.

For other people, the process can kill their passion, enthusiasm, and confidence. Too much of their focus goes into avoiding negative criticism. They end up internalizing the critical voices and becoming paralyzed.

For such people, it's often better to simply read and write a lot on their own. You can absorb the principles of good writing by reading great writers and thinking about how they write, and you can make those principles your own by writing a lot.

Visual art students often do something similar. They will examine great paintings to see how the masters practiced composition, brushwork, etc. and then try to copy the masters' styles.

But just as a painter must find his/her own style to become great, a writer must nurture his/her own voice, not kill it.

For this reason, the other trouble with critique groups is that they can gradually push everyone in the group into writing in the same style.

To clarify, I'm not against writing groups/courses. But I think it's better to see comments or principles of writing as possibilities. If you come across a writing tip, ask yourself if the tip would add something interesting to a story you're working on or see if it gives you any ideas for new stories. Could you make an existing story of yours better by using the tip?

Always try to generate excitement rather than kill it.

If the tip doesn't seem immediately helpful, just file it away. Some day, it might be more helpful - perhaps when you're working on a different story.

Meanwhile, don't stop writing. Writing always improves with practice. Follow your passion and make it fun.

One other thing to try: see if you can treat criticism or the principles of writing as a fun challenge. Make it a game to see if you can incorporate them into your writing in a way that makes you more inspired and enthused.

Comments for When Writing Goes From Fun to a Frustrating

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Jul 16, 2012
Take what you want and leave the rest
by: Betty K

When I started writing I knew nothing about the rules, and when I took some writing courses I just got overwhelmed with them. Eventually I thought, the books I love to read don't follow all these stupid rules. Why don't I take what I think is gold and leave the dross. That's what I do now.

Just as an example, some critiques will say, "oh you should never tell, only show." Nonsense. There is a time for showing (scenes) and there is a time for (telling) narrative--to move the plot forward.

So learn when to break the rules for more interesting writing.

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