Becoming a Better Writer: Easier Than You Think

Saturday, August 24, 2013
I’m sure your fiction files are much like mine, whether you save piles of writing in online folders or cram typewritten pages into dented metal filing cabinets. I’ll bet you have plenty of pieces that have never been published, pieces that now languish, abandoned, dejected, demoralized. And why?

Well, probably because an editor rejected them.

It may seem tragic at the time, but rejection is not the end of the road to publication. What is tragic is leaving those stories and poems and essays to lounge about while you peck away at your keyboard, becoming a better writer.

That’s right. Every day that you write, you’re becoming a better writer. You may not realize it, but you’re improving your craft. Every day that you read good writing, or tips about good writing, you’re picking up nuances or figuring out pitfalls. In short, you’re building necessary skills whenever you work. And because of this practice, you’re not the same writer today that you were yesterday. Or the day before that. Or the month before that.

So what does that mean for you, the I-am-writer, hear-me roar?

Don’t give up on those old stories, those dejected poems, those languishing essays! Take them out and give them a read. You may be surprised at the gems waiting for you.

Now, technically, they may not be gems at first read. I mean, let’s be realistic. There may have been a very good reason why a piece of writing was rejected. But here’s the good news. Because you’re a better writer, you can peruse that piece of writing and figure out why it was rejected.

I’m a big believer in going back to old writing, even though I have read some pretty cringe-worthy stuff and wondered how in the world I ever sent that piece of writing (and I use that term loosely) out into the world. But I almost always see something in that writing that makes me stop and think, “Hold on, Cathy. You have something here.”

And wonder of wonders! I can see—almost immediately—what I couldn’t see before! I can see where the plot went south, or that a character limped along, or that a theme is completely missing. And even more wondrous? I know how to fix it!

So I attack that writing. I polish up that gem and make it sparkle. More often than not, the new and improved piece goes back out into the world—and it’s not rejected. It’s accepted for publication, or places in a contest.

Honestly, all the work you do will pay off! Why, you’re a better writer already for having stopped by here to read The Muffin. Now all you have to do is open a file, pluck something out—and (re)write!

~ Cathy C. Hall (Hear me roar!)


sally said...

Great advice. And encouraging.

Anonymous said...

Cathy...wonderful advice and so timely for me right now. Lately, I've been haunted by ghosts. Not the type that go bump in the night, the ghosts of manuscripts past. Or rather, one particular paranormal mystery manuscript. It was the second novel I tried to write...and the second novel I failed to finish. But I have over 1/3 of it written. Sure, the current manuscript has holes and some really clunky scenes. I think the issue was that I just did not have the writerly skills to "get 'er done" in the past. Now that I have one finished/published novel, I have pulled it out, dusted it off...and finally think I see how to rewrite it.

Cynthia Green said...

How right you are that most writers have file cabinets and closets filled with old, forgotten manuscripts. Some of my short fiction stories have been published in several well-known British magazines, but many more stories have been rejected. I recall one short story that I knew was too good not to be published and I continued to revise and it and send it back to the same editor until she finally accepted it. Never give up. There's a gem in every story and it's the writer's job to polish their words. Sending work to editors is daunting, but incredibly rewarding when you receive a positive reply.

Cathy C. Hall said...

Trisha, I know what you mean about having the writing chops to "get 'er done." Every time I work on the current manuscript, I get a little closer to saying what I want to say--mostly, because I'm getting better at the little things that make a story sing. least, I *hope* I am. :-)

And Cynthia, I love that you sent the same (reworked)story to the same editor till she accepted it! Good on you!

Margo Dill said...

Yes, I agree. I have a couple. . .hundred picture book manuscripts. LOL Here's what happens to me sometimes: I'll open a file and think: Did I write this or was that from an old critique group member? :)

Beth C. said...

Preach it, Cathy!

Linda O'Connell said...

You are so right. I have resurrected very old pieces, and even when they make me gasp at my newbie writing, I can often cull a nugget and rework it. The more we write the better we get. It is so true. Stop by for some news.

anita said...

Your advice is so smart and you express yourself so well, Cath. Do you think there's a market for our old NN essays out there! :)

Cathy C. Hall said...

Anita, there's always a market for good work like yours--you just have to know where to look!;-)

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