When ideas first come to you, just write them down. Get the story out of your head, out of your pen or keyboard, and onto those sheets of blank paper or onto the screen.
Don’t edit as you go! If you’re constantly fixing grammar or correcting a word choice, you’ll never write anything worthwhile because you’ll never finish it. Let the result of that burst of creativity sit for an hour or so before you fuss with it. If you can, wait till the following day to take another look at it. This is a pretty good reason not to be writing a class assignment at 9 p.m. or later on the day before it’s due – short of family emergencies, of course. Everyone has those! Except professors, it seems. Their dogs would never dare eat their owners’ checkbooks.
Things to Change
A second look at what you wrote will reveal things to change:
- spelling bloopers
- wrong choice between:
- too, to, and two
- their, there, and they’re
- won’t, wont, and want
- and many, many more.
It will also reveal:
- weak verbs
- passive voice when active would be better (active isn’t always better)
- useless adverbs
- didactic or flowery expressions
- street talk that will date your story when it isn’t a historical piece
- lack of continuity.
Emotions, Observations, Surprises?
Is there any emotion in the story? If you don’t cry or laugh or fume or wonder at the world after reading it, no one else will either. Is there some observation that will make a reader say, ain’t it the truth? Is there a slight surprise in the story or does it plod to a predictable ending?
Not everything has to be O.Henry-esque, nor should it be, but it’s a good plot twist to keep in mind.
A Story to Tell
Being able to write well is one aspect of the writer’s craft. Having a story to tell or a worthwhile opinion to express is another. Deep down that’s where you need reassurance.
- Is this a good story? Have I done it justice?
- Will anyone else like it?
- What if I read it to my sister or husband and she or he ridicules me?
- What if some moron in class writes stupid remarks on it when we pass the papers around?
- What if somebody at church gets all preachy and says I should only use my talent to write Bible stories?
- What if an editor rejects it? (It happens all the time.)
All of these things and worse will happen to you when you are a writer! It goes with the territory and there is no balm in Gilead that will ease the pain, not right away. One of the prime requisites for being a writer is that you are observant and sensitive. You see what your society is doing to itself and it hurts when you know people can do so much better when they aren’t being selfish, greedy or bossy.
It’s your responsibility to depict the world as you have experienced or observed it and as you know it can be. You will completely disguise your characters, of course, to avoid invasion of privacy lawsuits, as well as libel charges. You will often transport them to another time or another world for the sake of writing the best story you have in you. You will never, ever use the real names* of those who have flounced or strutted or shrieked their way through your world.
Try to let someone else read the story before you send it to an editor, though relatives are generally a bad choice. As are most friends. But if several members of your writers’ critique group, for example, have the same suggestion(s) for your story, you might consider incorporating a change. Even so, it’s your tale or your essay, not what someone else would write.
There will also be the occasional spiteful (read “jealous”) reaction. Eventually, you will learn to just say “Thank you for reading (the story/book)” and move on.
You may be stabbed in the back or kicked in the gut, but you cannot continue to internalize criticism and insult from others; that will destroy you and your talent. Take only the best (most helpful) comments with you.
*A possible exception will be if you’re writing biographical material, including family history. Just be aware that’s a minefield all its own.