Painful Levels

Since I started writing again I've been going to retreats and conferences in an attempt to push myself to take my writing to the next level. Once I started this process I couldn't stop. So what has me so addicted to improvement? Isn't it good enough to just have the natural talent of a writer? I wish it were that easy. When I was in high school I thought it would be that easy. I thought I'd write a book and get it published. Anyone who has finished a book and has tried getting and agent or jumped that hurdle altogether and went straight for the publisher knows just how hard that really is. There is no easy road to getting published and there is always room for improvement.

It wasn't until I attended my first writer's retreat that I realized just how much room for improvement there was in my own writing. The only people who had read my book were friends who praised it until I blushed. I figured it must be good if my friends liked it. I can see you flinch even without a webcam. If you didn't, you probably have the same wonderful kind of friends I do and you may not have learned the true meaning of critique yet. Criticism even in it's finest form--constructive criticism--is still a very harsh and painful process. But it's a necessary process. Without it your writing will not improve. If you constantly hear how good your book is and no one ever tells you how you could improve it, it will never be the best it can be. As wonderful as those praising friends are, you need different friends who will tell you exactly what's wrong with your book, using constructive criticism but without the gloves on.

Think of your writing like the construction of a good sword, it must be heated, folded, and pounded before it can withstand the rigor of battle. Becoming published is like battle and without a strong manuscript, your weapon will crumble and you will be defeated. So heat up the forge and invite the criticism!

Check out this great article on a similar subject by Kate Monahan of Writer's Digest:


  1. This is absolutely true! I cannot emphasis the importance of a conference, and a retreat, to take your writing to the next level.

    When we met at the Hawaii writers retreat, my first thought was, “holy cow, I know nothing!” Yet, before I attended, I too thought I could get my novel published, no problem. And then, after a week with you, our co-retreaters, and William Bernhardt as my guiding star, I realized that I could learn this.

    I left the retreat and the conference with the realization, and confidence that I will get published. Not because I have great ideas and could write… the first part of that equation is true, I do have great ideas, but the second part was only true if the writing was technical, and or academic in nature.

    The retreat taught me what I needed to know, but never knew that I needed to know it, and would not have known, had I not attended. And then, working with you and our scribe sisters, has opened my eyes to how beneficial working together is to improvement.

    Critiques are wonderful. Discussions are better. If you are open to discuss and listen and work with others… everybody wins. We all learn from each other. Heather, when I say I am going to be published, I have no doubt I will. But it will be attributed to my foundation with William Bernhardt at the retreat, and the work that I am doing with you and the scribes.

    Everyone who desires to become published must be a retreater and conference addict!

  2. Yup, I still remember coming home from my first critique. Talk about deflated. I pouted, poured over my manuscript, and declared my critique group incompetent. Then I got over myself. Like you said, constructive criticism is crucial. I want my sword to hold up!

  3. I know huh Karlene? I thought my writing was fine until I attended that first retreat. What an eye opener!

  4. I did the same thing Samantha! Thought my first critique was from a NY Times bestselling author. I thought, he doesn't write my genre, he doesn't know. Turned out, he did and there was a LOT of room for improvement in my work. I never would have made that improvement if I wouldn't have moved beyond my ego and opened myself up to those wonderful critiques. When we raise our swords up they'll be unbreakable!

  5. This is so true! And eventually it gets easier to look at critiques as the tool to a better manuscript. It reminds me of a conversation I once had with my editor/boss at the publishing company I used to work at. She asked me what my goals were. I said I wanted to be a better editor. She said, "We all do. Every editor is learning every day, every year. That should always be one of your goals, but what *else* do you want to do?" That really struck me. even the editors I admired were still learning. It's a path without an end, isn't it?

  6. It really is a path without an end. I like what you said about your response to your old boss though, how it struck you. That's a great point, we need to ask ourselves, beyond improvement, what else do we want out of our writing?


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