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StoryTV With Jennifer B., Episode One: How Do I Know If My Story Sucks?

How many times have you been writing something and then asked yourself: does this suck?

My guess is, too many times to keep count. I know, because this is a question I hear often in my conversations with writers.

And it’s something I’ve experienced myself.

When I finished writing my first novel back in 2008, I wondered if it was any good. So I sent it off to one of my writer-editor friends for a second opinion.

What came back was valuable feedback that I was able to use to make the decision that the story wouldn’t work as-is, and I’d need to do a full overhaul. Fast-forward to the present, and I’m finally to a place where I’m going to publish what I’ve written.

It took questioning the story that I had to help me see how to turn it into the story that I wanted.

Questioning the quality of your story is a good thing. It means you care enough about the end result to ask the question. 

I decided to answer this question in the debut episode of my new webshow: StoryTV With Jennifer B.

Note: I am a novice videographer and editor, at best. I figured the information I’m sharing is more important than the perfection of the video. Will do better next time.–jb

I’d love to know how you’d answer this question: how do I know if my story sucks?

Share your thoughts in the comments.

Ready to hire a content editor to give you feedback on your story–what’s working, what’s not and how to fix it? Check out the Read and Feedback program

Writing Radio Debuts This Week

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For awhile now I’ve had this idea to create a monthly podcast all about the writing topics that I most get asked about by clients and the students in the workshops I teach. That’s why I’m so excited to announce that I am officially launching my new podcast: Writing Radio. 

Each month in the podcast I’ll be doing a mini-writing workshop on hot topics that will help make you a better writer.

This month’s topic is… Read more

How To Get the Most Out of A Writing Critique

By Jennifer Blanchard

As a writer, if you’re interested in making your writing better, you will, at some point, have to subject yourself to constructive criticism.

At first, this can be very difficult. It’s hard to hear someone say critical things about the writing you spent so much time on and put your heart into.

But this criticism, when used correctly, can make your writing a thousand times better.

Here is how to make the most of a critique:

  • Prepare Yourself–You are doing it. You are finally going to let someone read your writing. This is a huge step, so congratulations. But before you get on with the critique, it’s a good idea to make sure you are 100 percent OK with this. If you go into the critique ready for it, you’ll get a much better result than if you go into it with an attitude or thinking that the person is going to “cut you down.”Once you’re ready to fully accept criticism, move on to step two.
  • Choose a Constructively Critical Reader–You want to make sure you ask someone to critique your work who will be constructive and give you ideas and suggestions for making your writing better. Criticism of your writing should always be constructive. If the person you asked for a critique is being mean, making fun or just completely rude, you have every right to ignore him/her (and never ask them to critique your work again!).
  • Read Through Everything First–Once the person has critiqued your writing, the next thing you’ll want to do is read through all their comments. Don’t judge any of the comments or get defensive and start explaining why you wrote it this way or that way. Just take it all in.
  • Be (and Remain) Open-Minded–A constructive critique can easily put you on your defenses if you don’t approach it with an open mind. The person is there to help you. And you asked them to, so you should give them the benefit of the doubt and at least consider what they are telling you.
  • Understand that Constructive Criticism Will Make Your Writing Better–After you’ve worked on something for so long, it’s hard to let it go. It’s hard to be open to someone telling you it’s not perfect or that it needs more work. But ultimately, this is the information you need to get to that next step in your writing career. The more you accept criticism and learn how to use it, the better your writing will be.
  • Consider that You Don’t Know Everything–It’s your writing, which means you are extremely close to the project. And being thisclose to the project stops you from having another perspective. That’s why criticism is so important. The people who read and critique your work will be reading it for improvement. They will be reading to help you make it better.
  • Remember the Choice is Yours–You asked this person to read and constructively criticize your writing. But that doesn’t mean what this person says goes. Although their advice is appreciated, you are ultimately the decision-maker. You are the one who decides which comments you use and which you ignore.

To get the best critique possible, you want to ask someone who actually knows what he/she is talking about. So while your mom, sister or significant other might read it and just “love, love, love it!” A critical reader, who has some experience in writing, will make a much better reader.

I recently asked one of my good friends–a magazine editor who has written three books of her own–to read and critique my first novel. I was a bit nervous as this is a woman I look up to, as well as appreciate advice from.

She ended up coming back to me and saying that overall the story was solid, interesting and definitely sellable…but my main character needed a major overhaul. She said the main character was immature and she wanted to slap her the entire time.

Ouch!

But having her say that to me really made me go back and look at my character through her viewpoint. Turns out, she’s right! So now I’m going back and tweaking some parts of the book so the main character’s immaturity is intentional, as opposed to annoying and lame.

Having my writer-friend critique my book felt awesome. While there is still a lot of work ahead of me, I at least now know what I need to do to make my book better.

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How about you? Have you had your work critiqued? How did it work for you? Any additional ideas for getting the most out of a critique?

How To Be A Better Writer

By Jennifer Blanchard

If you’ve mastered the fundamentals of writing (grammar, vocabulary, all the elements of style), you’re already on track to becoming a better writer. And there are lots of other things that you can do to continue on that path. Things like writing every day, reading good writing and taking a writing course.

It’s important to continually improve your writing in whatever way makes sense for you. The harder you’re willing to work, the better writer you’ll be.

To help you out, here are some can’t-miss article about becoming a better writer. Read a couple and try some of the tips out:

And be sure to come back and let us know how you did.

Writers Take Note: Practice Makes Perfect

In the most recent issue of Shape magazine, Venus Williams, a tennis star and winner of numerous titles, talks about her seven ways to get motivated. And her first way involves practicing. She says:

“You have to practice to develop your talents–and learn to enjoy putting the effort in, otherwise you won’t succeed.”

She then explains that she does two hours of training per day in the gym and four hours per day on the court.

 

Procrastinating writers can learn a lot from Williams. She’s motivated, dedicated and, above all, reaches her goals.

 

As I’ve mentioned before, I have a hard time putting in the effort and writing, which is the main reason why I don’t write most of the time. But this is something I, and every other procrastinating writer, needs to move past. If we’re ever going to succeed in our writing goals, we need to practice, practice, practice…and love doing it.

 

The best way to get started with practicing is to write, and write often. No more skipping days, no more “I don’t feel like writing,” no more “but there’s a rerun of Seinfeld on that I’ve never seen before.”

 

And you don’t need to jump into this and make a huge commitment. As Bill O’Hanlon says in his book, Write is a Verb (which I will be discussing in a later post), write for just 15 minutes a day to start. That’s it. Just 15 minutes. Eventually you’ll start to fall in love with writing and want to write for longer.

 

So do you think you can write for 15 minutes a day? Let’s try it together…then come back to let me know how you’re doing.

30 Days To A Better Writer


I came across an interesting method of productivity on Copyblogger the other day. Writer Sonia Simone called it “3 Sure-Fire Steps For Beating The Boring Content Blues,” but I’m calling it “30 Days To A Better Writer.” (This is also known as “The Seinfeld method of productivity.“)
The entire method involves 3 easy steps:
  1. Write Everyday–This means everyday! For the next 30 days (or longer if you can stand it). And you can write anything you want: a scene in your novel, an act in a play, a blog post, a journal entry.

    Get a calendar and a marker. Then mark an ‘X’ across each day that you write. The idea is to not break the chain, and if you fall off or miss a day before you reach 30 days you start over.

    You don’t need to write all day, just set aside at least 20 minutes.”Practicing every day will create breakthrough improvement–if you do it enough days in a row. It will give your work a depth it didn’t have before, a maturity and a new clarity,” Simone says.

    Turn off your inner editor and give yourself permission to write crap. Sit down and write a crappy chapter in your novel.

    “Crap is just fine,” Simone says. “Skipping a day is not.”
      
  2. Post Your Blog Every 2 or 3 Days; Polish Your Work At Least Once A Week–You probably won’t publish every post you write, but try to publish every 2 or 3 days. This will keep your content fresh and your readers coming back.

    If you don’t have anywhere to publish your work right now (all you budding fiction writers!), try to go thru and edit a few pieces at least once a week.
      
  3. Capture 2 Ideas Everyday–Everyday, write down 2 ideas for a blog post or a scene in your short story or a verse of a poem. Make sure you have easy access to this list of ideas. The ideas don’t have to be good ideas; many will likely be pretty bad. What’s important is that you’re capturing lots of good ideas mixed in with the bad ones.

    “If you get completely stuck on ideas for the day, think of two different angles on the post you just wrote,” Simone says. “Or riffs on two current events. Or load up magazines.com and capture a couple of
    Cosmo headlines.”

    A wise writer once told me: “Everyone walks past a thousand story ideas everyday. Good writers see five or six; most people don’t see any.”


    Two ideas a day keeps the writer’s block away.

So, Why Does It Work?

Simone says it works for a couple reasons: “First, you can’t write well unless you can learn to ignore the part of your brain that wants things to be perfect.” and “Second, you’re learning a habit not only of writing daily but of original thinking daily.”
 

The Most Important Thing To Take Away


“You’ll learn what every serious writer knows–there is no such thing as inspiration,” Simone says. “There is work and there is a commitment to show up, and then there is the alchemy that lets you create better writing than you thought you could write. These things are a result of daily commitment and practice.”
The best part of all of this is you’ll have some “reserve writing” for days when you just can’t think of anything to write about or need an idea starter.
And remember, you don’t have to continue this forever…just for 30 days. Unless you want to…
So what do you think? Can you commit to 30 days of writing for at least 20 minutes a day?

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If you commit to it, copy and paste this pledge into the comments section of this blog and fill in your information:
“I, __________, commit to write everyday for the next 30 days. I will keep track of my accomplishments by marking the day off on my calendar. I’ll also post my blog every two or three days/I’ll also edit my work at least once a week. And I will capture at least two ideas a day.”