Monday, 25 February 2013

A Rejection Can Become An Acceptance

There’s an excellent article in the latest issue of Writers’ Forum magazine (Issue 137) by Glynis Scrivens called Turning A No Into A Yes. In it, Glynis reveals how other writers have turned a rejection into an acceptance.

What I liked about the article, is that it demonstrates quite clearly how all of these other writers accept that rejection is part of the job. But these writers also demonstrated their job-like attitude to rejection and offered some ideas on how to turn the rejection into something more positive.

I say this, because over the weekend I was marking an assignment, and the student had said that he’d already submitted his article, and it had been rejected. He therefore knew I was going to say the article wasn’t very good, it was a bad idea, and was therefore he was wasting my time, but because he’d initially written it for his assignment, he thought he’d send it in anyway. 

Firstly, I was a little surprised that the student had submitted it before sending in his assignment. Timing wasn’t an issue, so why not let your tutor give you some feedback before you send out your work into the big wide world? Anyway, reading through his article, I could see how with a couple of small adjustments, he had a perfectly good piece here. His target market wasn’t quite right in my opinion (which is probably why his article had been rejected), but I suggested another market where it could work, and suggested ways in which he could tweak his idea to fit that new market.

This student was letting the first rejection be the end of the matter, and this needn’t be the case. The examples other writers gave in Glynis’s article offered some great ideas. One common theme struck me though - determination. None of these writers had given up at the first hurdle. One writer, Lynne Hackles, mentioned that the longest it took to sell a story was 30 years.

So, never let a rejection put you off. Yes, it can be disheartening, but it’s not the end of the world. There’s always something else you can do with your idea, or text. It might be a "No" now, but there could be a "Yes" just around the corner ... but only if you do something with that rejected text.

Good luck.

Monday, 18 February 2013

Limiting Your Creativity

A student mentioned in an email to me last week that they were having problems coming up with ideas. He would sit down at his allotted writing time, switch on his laptop and fire up a blank page in his word processor. And then he would think, “Now, what am I going to write about?” Whereupon, he says, he would sit and wonder for up to half an hour about what to write.

Being able to write about absolutely anything can be overwhelming. With so much available to you, it can overload the brain. The trick is to limit your creativity. Paradoxically, limiting your creativity can lead to better creativity.

Instead of thinking I have 30 minutes in which I can write about anything I want, you could try giving yourself some boundaries. Instead, try thinking I have 30 minutes in which I can write anything I want about my home town/my last travels/the date I had last night. As soon as you narrow your choice, your brain has something to work on. It can cope better, because you’ve dismissed everything else.

The problem with having complete freedom is that it stifles you. You might have an idea, but then think, No! I can write about anything I like - I might have an even better idea in a minute. And so your brain continues to consider absolutely everything humanly possible. Whereas, once you’ve narrowed down your topic, your brain has disregarded everything else. You’ve already made the decision not to worry about anything else. Limiting your creativity gives you the freedom to explore a narrow idea.

If you ever go to a writing workshop, rarely will you be asked to sit down and write about absolutely anything that you like. Instead, the workshop facilitator will give you some boundaries from which to work. Sometimes, the more restrictive you are, the more creative you might be.

Some of the world’s greatest inventions have come about through the creative use of limited resources. So, next time you feel creatively stuck try narrowing down your options. You might surprise yourself.

Good luck.

Monday, 11 February 2013

You Don't Have to Agree With Your Tutor ...

I was contacted by a fellow correspondence course tutor this week (he works for another company) who was quite upset about a response he’d had from one of his students. This student had received the tutor’s feedback on their assignment and had taken offence. As a result, the tutor was worried that his criticism had come across as too harsh and was not constructive.

Receiving criticism is difficult, and all tutors are aware of this. But, hopefully, the criticism a tutor gives is constructive. It should demonstrate the steps that can be taken to improve the text, and then explain why those steps lead to better text.

Does a student have to agree with a tutor’s advice and implement it? No, not at all. It is entirely up to the student whether they take the action the tutor has recommended. Most tutors, though, are drawing upon their own (successful) writing experience.

One of the student’s complaints to my fellow tutor, was that he’d picked up on all of the spelling, punctation and grammatical errors, within the text. Surely, this wasn’t necessary when so many published books have poor spelling, grammar and punctuation within them. Sadly, I can see where this attitude comes from - only this morning, whilst reading a crime novel written by a well-known novelist, (and published by one of the big four UK publishers) I came across two spelling mistakes in the text. The first one was a little dismaying, but the second one, only a few pages later, was more annoying. I began to question how many more I might come across in the book, which I expected to be professionally written and produced. But this experience doesn’t make me think it’s okay to let my standards drop. I still want to write to the best of my ability, and to the highest standard that I can attain. And that’s also what I hope for my students, too.

It came across that the student’s response was one of someone whose immediate reaction had taken the comments personally. They’d not liked what they’d read and sat down and fired off an emotional response. Whilst understandable, it’s a shame, because that tutor/student relationship is now more delicate than it might have been. In the future, my friend is more likely to exercise extreme caution when marking this student’s work, (in fear of receiving further vitriolic responses), which means the student may not get the detailed feedback that could really help them. It would probably be better if the student asked to move to a new tutor, and created a fresh tutor/student relationship. Indeed, I’ve often said to people undertaking courses, that if they don’t get on with their tutor, then ask to be transferred. The tutor/student relationship is an important one, but it is also a human relationship, and not all humans get on with one another. You’re more likely to get the most benefit from your course if you have a good relationship with your tutor.

That doesn’t mean that a student has to accept everything their tutor tells them. Sometimes, students have disagreed with my advice. They’ve taken on board my comments and spent time making the changes I’ve suggested, but then they don’t like this new result. That’s okay. I respect the student’s decision, because at least they’ve had a go at making the changes I’ve suggested. They didn’t simply dismiss my suggestions; they gave them thought, consideration and then tried acting upon them. Because of this, they now have a ‘before’ and ‘after’ piece of work, to compare, which they didn’t have before they’d received my feedback. This enables them to examine the differences and ask themselves which bits work better, and why. Being able to say that, “this works better because…” means the student has still learned something in the process, and as a result, they will be a better writer. 

At the end of the day, everybody is human: students and tutors.

Good luck.

Monday, 4 February 2013

Writing: A User Manual

I’ve just finished reading Writing: A User Manual by David Hewson. Unlike many other writing books, Hewson doesn’t say, “These are the rules to writing,” instead he says, “This is how I do it.” If you’ve ever considered writing a novel, then I’d certainly recommend reading it.

There are, naturally, many lessons that all writers can take from this book, whether they write novels or not. In it, he makes an interesting point about how writers work, as creative artists. There are many who bash out the first draft of a piece of text, and then go back later and edit. There are some who agonise over every word and won’t move on until it is right. Whichever way you do it, it doesn’t matter - as long as it’s a system that works for you.

Hewson suggests that some writers should think more about their writing techniques. He draws upon the methods of other creative people. A painter, for instance, doesn’t slap on a whole load of paint, and then hone their piece by deleting the paint that isn’t necessary. Whereas a writer might bash out 120,000 words, and then delete 40,000 words, a painter might sketch an outline and consider carefully, the colours required and where each stroke will go. A painter’s creativity is, generally, something that evolves, step-by-step.

Whereas a sculptor will take a huge block of stone and start deleting it, chipping away to reveal their creation. What’s left is a fraction of what there was at the start, but it has been turned into something beautiful. He raises an important point: creativity is a process. The creative element of writing is not the bashing out of the first draft. The editing process is just as much, if not more, of the creativity system. 

Does how you write matter? Only if it doesn’t work, argues Hewson. He looks at a few common rules offered to writers and gives his take on them. (See his section I Like Adverbs - There, I’ve Said It, Boldly.) And he demonstrates how less is more. The section on the choices he makes for his settings is quite revealing. And there are some lovely anecdotes about co-incidences in this writing world.

So, whatever your next project is, take time to enjoy the creative process.

Good luck.

Writing: A User Manual by David Hewson.
ISBN: 978-1408157428
Available from Amazon and other bookstores.