I always had a thing for reading and writing. At four years old I was wolfing down Dr. Seuss books like it was nobody’s business, and by first grade I could finish any one of those Captain Underpants novels in less than a day. No big deal. Inspired by George Beard and Harold Hutchins, I started writing my own
mostly plagiarized comic books, which kick-started my ongoing writing career.
I’ve since retired from the comic book business, but I have yet to stop writing stories. Most of them have been science fiction, and centered around a main character (always around my age) with similar characteristics. Basically me, except perfect in every way, and everyone who opposed me was just evil, an idiot, or both. Which brings me to this month’s TCWT blog chain:
What’s one thing you wish you knew when you started writing?
There are so many things to choose from, so I’m going to cheat and mention several of them. First off, I would’ve loved it if someone had let me in on this particular nugget: characters with flaws are infinitely more interesting than those without them.. Also, books where the main character is almost exactly like the author will never sell well, unless you’re John Green. For years I was writing characters who were idealized versions of myself, and surrounded them with characters who were just shallow versions of my real friends. And the villains were always real people I didn’t like, like my annoying older brother, who was always one-dimensionally evil and/or stupid.
(In my defense, my brother did (and still does) often act in a cartoonishly evil/stupid way. But that doesn’t mean he’d make a great character.)
Another helpful tidbit would’ve been: Your parents’ opinions are almost always useless. This may not apply for those of you who have parents with writing experience, or genuinely criticize your work instead of just “This is amazing! I’m going to put this on the fridge so I can read it every day,” but in my case (and most others) your parents probably laughed at your writing as a little kid; they just complemented it because they didn’t want to discourage you.
Of course, I don’t blame my parents for doing that. If I had shown my dad one of my stories as a little kid, and he replied with, “Don’t quit your day job, kiddo. This story sucks,” there’s a good chance I would’ve been discouraged from writing altogether, and this blog wouldn’t even exist.
Of course, the downside to this is that it gave me unrealistic expectations. I actually thought my work from five years ago actually had a chance of being published. (Heh heh.) And worst of all, I didn’t improve as much as I could have because I wasn’t aware of all the huge flaws in my writing, mostly because no one pointed them out. Which brings me to my next point.
Get people who aren’t your friends or family to read your writing. I wish I had known about beta readers. If you have a blog, you should post a few short stories or something, where people can criticize it for free. People on the internet are not exactly known for being too polite, after all, and they can be extremely helpful when it comes to critiquing your work, especially on WordPress. For my More Than I Can Chew interactive blog story, I have the delightful Plotwhisperer who isn’t afraid to say what she does and doesn’t like about each chapter, and it helps. A lot.
But the main thing I wish I knew from the very beginning is: Don’t censor yourself. Don’t stray from certain topics or themes just because you’re afraid you’ll offend someone. Write about what’s important to you and don’t hold back.* You don’t see this advice being used often on this blog, (it’s a humor/book blog. Topics like gun control and abortion would just be off-topic), but when I do write about potentially controversial subjects, they work out much better than I could possibly anticipate. I was Freshly Pressed from a post titled, “How to be a Young Writer Without Making Me Want to Punch You in the Face,” and I almost didn’t publish it because I was afraid it would upset some people. And it did upset some people. A few people politely disagreed with it, others impolitely disagreed with it, and one guy wrote an angry rant calling me an “arrogant fuck who doesn’t know what he’s talking about,” and continued to insult my blog and teen writers in general.
I can still remember large portions of that comment (he was a mean one, that guy), but I also remember the hundreds of other amazing comments from adults and teens alike. A bunch of teenagers were inspired by it, many adults were impressed and a high school English teacher even said she was going to show this article to all her students. For every angry commenter, they were fifty other nice and supportive ones. So I laughed to myself as I deleted that asshole’s comment and moved on with my life.
When you reach a wider audience, you’re bound to get a few mean critics, but if you’re afraid to speak your mind, you’ll never reach that audience to begin with.
Someone should quote me on that last sentence. That was deep.
*Of course, there’s a difference between speaking your mind and being a jerk. If you’re being racist/sexist/homophobic/prejudiced towards any group, don’t be surprised when you are either ignored or receive angry feedback. And I won’t feel bad for you.
(Sorry there’s no photo. I had to resort to using my phone to write the post, and I’m not sure how to add pictures.)
Check out the other participants here:
24th – http://teenscanwritetoo.wordpress.com/ – The topic for August’s blog chain will be announced.