Sometimes the right words from the right person spoken in the right tone at the right time can make a whale of a difference in attitude, confidence, and motivation.
In a phone conversation last week, an old friend said, “I’ve been meaning to tell you something for a while, and I keep forgetting.”
“Oh yeah? What’s that?” I asked, blithely walking along a tree-lined trail.
I paused to take some photographs of gossamer webs coating some fall leaves and heard her say, “Your writing has really improved.”
“What? Really? You mean that?”
“Of course, I mean it. You know I always speak the truth.”
“Oh my gosh. Thank you. That means a lot coming from you,” I said, staring off through the woods like I’d been struck by lightning. A former professor, this friend has done a lot more writing than I—and a lot more grading of it, too.
“I’ve been thinking of doing more than keeping a journal, but I’m not sure I want to join a group, not yet anyway. Seems like it’s worked for you,” she said.
“I ain’t lying. It was scary at first,” I admitted, ‘but I knew I’d never get any better if no one ever looked at my work and added their two cents’ worth.”
Here’s what I told her:
I can’t say this enough: if you’re not part of a writing group, find one. Mine has helped me immeasurably. Even now I can hear someone asking, “Is immeasurably really the word you want to use?” But you know, even if someone asks me about a word, that doesn’t bother me, largely because I know they want me to succeed. And vice versa. Besides, because of my group’s hints, suggestions, and downright firm recommendations, I have learned things to do and things to avoid. For starters, I use more action verbs and
tryto avoid passive voice.
The next time we talk, I’ll tell her that it’s important to have a good fit for her personality, genre, writing style, and purpose. In the meantime, I’m telling you.
Personality: There may be people who are abrasive and rude and people who want you to read their work but who give group members’ work a lick and a promise. And then, there might be someone who’s ultra-sensitive when someone points out the overuse of a word or a dangling participle.
Genre: While not everyone likes cozy mysteries, memoirs, or poetry, most of the time you can work things out. Turnabout’s fair play, and if you want others to slog through the third or fourth revision of a memoir chapter, then you need to make an effort to return the favor and read their poetry. So far, we haven’t had a member in our group to submit child pornography or graphic violence, and if that happens, we’ll deal with it then.
Writing style: Breezy, smooth, ponderous, dense, or what? Can you work with different styles, realizing that style and voice are related and that you too might have a few, er, issues?
Purpose: Some writers simply want to write for writing’s sake while others are bent on publication.
That was five days ago. Because of my friend’s generous words, I revised, edited, and tweaked a story and sent it to a magazine last night. She’s still thinking about joining a group, and later this month, we’re meeting to share tales, tips, and tablet notes (trying for a little alliteration).
What about you? Is there someone you could give a little nudge to? Has there been someone who bolstered your confidence? Is there something in your files that you could dust off and polish?