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Author Topic: Things that have made me a better writer.  (Read 811 times)

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Offline NO1SY

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Re: Things that have made me a better writer.
« Reply #15 on: March 29, 2021, 06:36:38 AM »

LEARN HOW TO GIVE AND TAKE FEEDBACK

So, as I have touched on previously, another angle to creating art is being able to analyse and critique it. Building off of being able to put into words the reason why you like things, alongside being aware of more general sentiments about what makes things popular or standout from media consumption and word of mouth, hopefully this gives you some ideas about how to look at someone elses work and comment on it. The reason this helps to improve your own writing, at least in my case, is that, in order for this feedback to be constructive and helpful, you must be able to align your analysis with the creator's vision and intent. This forces you to expand and re-assess your own ways of thinking, ideas and concepts, approaches to storytelling, and the alignment of your own vision for your stories.

The first thing when approaching giving feedback, especially if you are new to it, is to be DESCRIPTIVE as much as possible. Simply, everytime you like something in particular, highlight it to point it out and more importantly say WHY you liked it. Also, for the reverse, highlight everytime something stands out that you did not like and say WHY you disliked it. This is the most valuable form of feedback that independent writers can receive - real-time reactions to their writing and storytelling to understand what is hitting or missing - so it's beneficial to give this feedback as moment to moment highlights, even if something that the reviewer brings up is addressed later on.

I tend to take my analysis a little further (maybe further than I should)... I also look for: 1. what is the creator is trying to say and achieve? 2. is this engaging for me as the reader and a wider audience? 3. if yes, does the language/technique communicate this effectively as it is? 4. If no, how would I write this instead? 5. does my take also align with the goals of the original creator? I can then work my way down the flowchart (if the answer to 2 is no, then perhaps something needs removing or changing; if the answer to 3 is no, then some editing suggestions may be necessary; if the answer to 5 is no, then I need to realign my expectations and my take). The major point here, when it comes to actully presenting that feedback about the story itself (not copy-edits), is that I am never saying "you should" - it is always at most presented as possibilities/suggestions, which may be taken or left without judgement. Only when I am working as part of a group where I may have the permissions to do so will I actually present changes more strongly than this. Whilst I can try to include appeals to wider audiences and popular trends to ground my feedback, I am aware that my suggestions cater mainly to my own preferences, so it is important to be really careful not to overstep boundaries and commandeer the author's story - I am not writing it for them and I must adhere to their vision, and the final say is always theirs.

However, I find that this level of analysis feeds back to me and my own work in ways that I find beneficial. I'm putting myself in positions where I must engage properly with other peoples' writing on both a story and technical level. At the story level I am broadening my own ideas and vision by having to understand and adopt the motivations and goals in others' work. At the mechanical level I am practicing good language and technique through analysis of communication and simulation in the feedback. So, although I have little experience writing romance, by reviewing someone else's romance writing I can engage with all the elements I need to write it myself, just within the established scaffolding or framework of someone else's story. Once again, it's a bit like practice-by-proxy.

Receiving feedback has to be done in just as much good faith. If someone raises a concern or offers a suggestion it should never just be dismissed outright without engaging with it. Even when feedback is presented in quite a blunt fashion, which can be difficult to read and swallow, if someone has properly engaged with your writing and felt the need to comment honestly, it is worth considering and discussing. Being overly defensive about what you have written is rarely going to allow for the best version of your writing to come out in the end. Even if you do not want to make a change after receiving a piece of feedback you should still have sat and considered why you do not want to make that change and if that is really the best course of action or not. Some few things can be overlooked in the end every so often in pursuit of the author's vision, some compromises can be struck, but if you never flex or budge or shift or adapt then your story will always suffer.

I think that this all can apply somewhat to reviewing published professional works as well, although the consideration given to different aspects may be balanced slightly differently - technical analysis may take less of a spotlight compared to narrative and personal enjoyability for instance. But this all ties back into the "Think about what you read" post.
« Last Edit: April 05, 2021, 10:39:59 AM by NO1SY »

Offline Coryn

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Re: Things that have made me a better writer.
« Reply #16 on: March 29, 2021, 01:52:07 PM »
@Suuper: True enough. True too that if your planet rotates and orbits in a similar fashion to ours, then the shortest and longest days of the year will repeat with the same regularity.

@NO1SY: As a coda to your comment on receiving critique, I will add that is also important (although probably less so) to develop a skill at identifying when someone isn't critiquing you, but attacking you. We've seen it here on MR before. Sometimes a member comes along who is satisfied with nothing, and sees only flaws wherever they look. One member I won't name in particular was infamous for bashing on stories they themselves did not actually read. I recall a comment they gave me which complained about me using the 1st person perspective, because they preferred 3rd person stories. This already was a worthless critique. Neither form of perspective is inherently better or worse, just different. That is already grounds for dismissal of a comment. But what peeved me the most was that my story was written in 3rd person, so by their own comment did they betray the fact they didn't do the reading.

So yeah, develop a keen sense for not only trolls, but for lazy reading.

Will review stories upon request. My latest arc: http://goo.gl/KYgsfF

Offline NO1SY

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Re: Things that have made me a better writer.
« Reply #17 on: March 29, 2021, 06:07:13 PM »
@Coryn - Yeah I kinda wanted to keep most of my points in the positive, so I didn't really focus on what happens when someone is not engaging in good faith with a piece of work. I can remember several people that I would say didn't really engage in a healthy way with feedback, and it used to show in both giving and taking...

I feel that some obvious hallmarks are:
1. A desire to state opinions as facts (and getting "facts" about the piece wrong...)
2. Disregarding other points of view or wider audiences
3. Disregarding the creator's vision entirely for their own
4. An unwillingness to explain their points or a callous attitude where they don't see the need to
5. An overzealousness in explaining points but without any willingness to actually engage in multi-way discussion about them
6. "My way or the highway" approach to discussion, where they are uninterested in letting something go or settling on a compromise

Offline NO1SY

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Re: Things that have made me a better writer.
« Reply #18 on: April 11, 2021, 10:01:15 AM »

CONGREGATE AND COMMUNICATE!

So, to finally round out my major points for this thread, we reach a topic of discussion that Coryn brought up earlier on. This is arguably the point that made me want to start this whole topic in the first place, but you might see how I think that my previous points build to facilitate success in this one. That's not to put them in an order of importance mind you, but I think that improving through the other areas has given me more confidence and capability when engaging with others' work, and so now I can enter a group setting and feel like I'm contributing positively.

To be fair, most of us already took the first leap into this when we joined the forum and shared our writing - hopefully receiving engagement and feedback. However, what I'm talking about now is something a bit more focused, personal and reliable. A small and close group of people who you trust and have regular access to. Writing alone is perfectly ok, and there are plenty of authors who work in a more solitary fashion, but I personally have found having checks and balances on my recent writing - in the form of regular oversight from other people - to be a huge positive. When I have more time to dedicate to writing again, I will definitely be looking to expand my connections into a small writing group.

There are a couple of ways to approach writing groups: 1. Alpha-Readers; 2. Collaborators. Honestly, most new groups and groups of newer writers should just act as a close group of alpha-readers. This avoids having writers step on one anothers' toes, comandeering other peoples' work, and provides the very valuable stream of consiousness reactions to the presented pieces of writing. For some added utility you can have one person every session assigned to act as a copy-editor and proof read the drafts for the writers, rotating the role through the group every session. You can also treat it a bit like a journal/book club, where there is a small discussion of ideas and Q&A afterwards. Collaborating has everyone a bit more involved, usually in one or a select few pieces of writing, and it helps to have very good expectations of everyone's contributions, very open communication between writers, and a strong collective sense of direction if not a project leader. Writers in a collaboration have to be very open to others coming in and editing their work/coming to compromises. It's doable, but much more difficult to maintain.

We live in a time where it is easier than ever to come together in real-time for our writing. Discord or Teams are great for organising instant messaging and group text/video chats, but for me Google docs (or any other software that allows for real time shared updates) has been a winner. To be able to, at any time, have others view as I write/view others as they write, and highlight, comment, proof-read etc is so invaluable, and has definitely resulted in some of my best writing on account of peripheral input from others during the writing process, not waiting until after the writing has been done as per a forum post.

As a last point, make sure that the people that you link with are good people who you can trust with your interests, and who you know will engage reliably and regularly with the group. As hobbyists, sometimes writing has to take the backseat, but you have to respect the commitment of everyone in the group and turn up to do your part when able.






NOTE: I went back to update and clarify my previous post "Learn how to give and take feedback" to be a little less sloppy and irresponsible with the impression I give about my aims for feedback. Hope it comes across better now.

« Last Edit: April 11, 2021, 10:04:21 AM by NO1SY »

Offline Suuper-san

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Re: Things that have made me a better writer.
« Reply #19 on: April 11, 2021, 01:55:51 PM »
This feedback thing is something I'm definitely trying to get more into these days as I'm learning what makes good writing.
I'm planning to go through a bit of the Canon and give my feedback, killing two birds with one stone there hopefully.

It definitely does help to have a friend or two to properly bounce things off of, not just superficial "it sounds good" but properly in depth. As it happens a friend of a friend does an online meet-up that's almost the beginnings of writers trying to give each other in-depth feedback, which I pop in on occasionally :P

I find that it's annoying when people don't have the same level as committment as you. I've been there on both sides so I can totally understand and respect when people just dont have the time to give feedback (that they said they would) and whatnot but all the same it can make it annoying when you dont get something that you were expecting, it can throw you a bit off-kilter.

I definitely want to get into more in depth analyses of my favourite works (mostly manga) to really break apart and learn how they did things. It requires a certain level of skill to know how to analyse properly which is an interesting dilemma when you're not good enough to even see how to get better.

And also I think it takes a lot of time to seriously break down another person work fully to understand it in depth. I dont  think very long about even my own work so I could probably use a bit more effort in that regard :P
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Offline NO1SY

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Re: Things that have made me a better writer.
« Reply #20 on: April 11, 2021, 05:19:56 PM »
A lot of group dynamics and communication is basically about setting expectations and fulfilling promises. As long as the people in the group are honest and upfront about what they think they can commit to, and then communicative about when there is a disruption, then usually it will work out. Not everyone has to put in an equal share of the effort, but everyone should be aware of and be ok with the amount of effort that each person is putting in.

And, if you find any really interesting things out from your favourite works please do share - I find other peoples' commentary often as interesting as the piece that they are analysing!

Offline Suuper-san

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Re: Things that have made me a better writer.
« Reply #21 on: April 12, 2021, 04:27:27 AM »
Quote
And, if you find any really interesting things out from your favourite works please do share - I find other peoples' commentary often as interesting as the piece that they are analysing!
This is starting to sound like an analysis workshop ehehehe
I think actually writing out our observations can help in forming a more solid understanding rather than just thinking it in our heads as we look at it, and it also gives a reference of things that we have observed/things we want to try ourselves, to quickly glance back at. That's given me a couple of ideas actually.
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