Happy Monday everyone! Today, I thought I'd give you some writing advice. I'm planning on this being a monthly thing, but we'll see how that goes. To coincide with this, every time I post some writing advice, I'll also be posting a short story on wattpad. My first one is called Moana and it's up right now.
Anyway, two years ago I decided I'd join a writing group. I had a critique partner, but I still felt like I needed validation for my writing*. So, I plucked up the courage and joined the group. In the group everyone sits down and listens to each others writing. Each person has five or so minutes to read their work and after they finish reading, everyone critiques them. It was...strange, at first, and overwhelming. I was the only one who wrote young adult fiction (or YA) and the first night I went there, I heard the words "speculative fiction" (or SF) for the first time. I said, "I write YA" and they said, "I kind of like SF", "maybe you'd be better off somewhere else, in another group?" and "is your story like Twilight? Does she end up falling in love with the bad guy?"**
It infuriated me. They didn't understand what I wrote, because it's violent and YA, but they gave me good feedback. The feedback was hard to hear, but it was probably what I needed at the time. I actually got some pretty good feedback. One piece was from an author who loved what I wrote and her comment kept me going for a long time.
I went their pretty regularly and one day, I read out a scene from the draft of the second manuscript I've ever written (which I'd go on to finish) with is YA fantasy. It's a pretty intense scene. There's drugs, hallucinations and an attempted suicide. When I finished reading it I remember someone saying something like, "That sounded incredibly real." Well, that was my intention.
I got good feedback until this one person decided to comment. Let's call this person, "456" because I want to be as unspecific and undescriptive of this person as possible. So 456 said something like, "How can you write something like that?" 456's tone of voice indicated that what I wrote was somehow wrong. That I shouldn't have written an intense drug scene with an attempted suicide. I didn't particularly like 456's story, in fact, I found it boring and not for me at all, but I didn't critique it based on the fact that I didn't like it. With 456's work, I thought, "Is this scene working?" or "Does this word sound awkward in this context?". Not once did I say, "How can you write that?"
That comment made me rethink my whole story and whether what I was doing was right. Is this too violent? Should I change this? Does 456 think that maybe I should write something contemporary and non-violent?***
I drifted away from the group after that. Far far away. I found excuses not to go and I settled back into the safety of my old routine. It took a little while, but I finished the manuscript and I'm proud of what I accomplished.
So, how can I write stories like that? Easy. I write lots of different stories from violent ones; to soft, slowly paced, rainy day stories; to futuristic sci-fi stories; to my current project, which is more like a high-fantasy. The point is, write what you want, whenever you want. If anyone, family or otherwise, tells you that your story is not their cup of tea, then turn away from them. They can drink coffee or some other beverage. If they don't understand, it's their loss.
In conclusion, my first writing lesson is do what you want. If people look at you strange or say crap right to your face about your story, simply because they don't get or like story, then whatever. If you're happy with where you're headed with your work, then keep going. You're the captain of your own life, so point yourself in whatever direction you feel like. Personally, I'm going to keep going with my current project. What I write next is anyone's guess.
* Don't ever think that you need validation for your writing. You're awesome and you don't need anyone to tell yourself that. Your drive should come from within and not from anyone else. If you want to write a book, you'll get it done.
** I've heard this more times that I like to admit. In people's minds YA = Twilight. Which, um, no, it's not. You can't take one series and use it to represent an entire category of books, especially one so diverse. FYI, in the long run, no, she doesn't end up with the "bad guy". He's abusive, manipulative and psychotic and she ends up killing him. While I don't mind Twilight, my work is nothing like that.
*** I can't write contemporary stories. If there's not an explosion or a death or something, then I get bored. If I'm bored writing a story, then something is definitely wrong.
Anjulie Te Pohe
Founder of Koru Mag | Mookychick contributor | Avid reader and writer of YA | Takatapui (Maori & bi/queer) | She/Them | Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org