As with any trade, the more you work at it, the better you become – and it’s the same with writing.
Looking back now, I can see how clumsy and amateur some of the prose from my earlier work actually was. A part of me wishes I could go back and tighten up some of this – especially my first book, Pearl’s Hereafter – but I have neither the time nor the patience and want to focus on what I’m writing at the moment.
It’s not so much that I’m embarrassed by my earlier work, as I think that it’s great story-wise, but it’s just the idea that people might have formed judgements about my writing based on its early shoddiness. I’m reassured, however, by the fact that Stephen King dismisses his first two novels as utter crap. All writers – even great ones – began from somewhere.
It takes a while to find your writer’s voice and hone your craft. Like Stephen King, I also feel apprehensive towards my first two books (one of them hasn’t even seen the light of day yet). With my third book though – The Essence of Sunshine – the quality of my prose dramatically improved and I was very pleased with the finished piece. In fact, it is the first project that I haven’t felt the need to go back and fix.
At the moment, I am writing a fantasy, which has yielded my best writing to date. I am excited to share this latest work and want to focus on bringing it into fruition. However, I do think that my earlier books need some TLC, so I am now considering hiring an editor for this purpose. If I can get someone on board to tighten up my earlier works, then I can carry on doing what I truly love and invest all my creative energy into my writing.
Before I read Show Your Work!, I used to think of self-promotion as something that was dirty and unwholesome. I was afraid of annoying people with too many updates and thought that I might come across as indulgent or arrogant if I posted too much about what I did.
But this guidebook was written for “people who hate the very idea of self-promotion”. Reading it has dramatically changed my perception and I now view self-promotion as simply sharing what you do – thinking of it in this way makes it seem less unsavoury somehow! In fact, sharing what you do – with regards to your work, thoughts and ideas – is really just being transparent about who you are as a person.
While reading Show Your Work!, I made key notes that I will definitely refer back to in the future. If you are someone who struggles to self-promote or have trouble speaking about what you do, then I highly advise you to check out this book. It is packed full of practical advice and really does help to shift your perception. The main lessons I learned from it are as follows:
- Share something small every day, whether it be something that inspired you or an idea that you had. Anything from your creative process that might be insightful or interesting to others.
- Document everything that you do. Take photos, keep a work journal etc, so that you have a wellspring of material to draw upon when blogging or posting updates.
- Focus on your work and get good at what you do. Don’t waste your time and energy trying to gain followers or network. People will come to you if you are good at your craft.
- Don’t hoard your ideas. Post about what you’ve learned and help your fellow creatives, encouraging support and collaboration.
- How to deal with the dreaded question: “So what do you do?”
- Appreciate your guilty pleasures (i.e. that TV show that everyone else thinks is lame) because maybe it will lead to something that inspires/influences your work.
- The vampire test. If something drains your energy, cast it out of your life. Keep the things that boost your energy.
There are so many other things that I learned too. There was also a lot that I already knew deep down, but I just needed some reassurance and encouragement. It is precisely the book that I needed to read and I am enjoying incorporating its methods and techniques into my life. Thank you, Austin Kleon, for a fantastic guidebook!
If you wish to check it out further, then click here: http://austinkleon.com/show-your-work/
In your heart, you already know what is right for your project.
Trust in your instincts and know when something is just so. If you want to improve something, then ask yourself whether this is out of fear or necessity. Learn to be the judge of your own work and pay no heed to the criticism of others.
Some criticism can be useful, but a lot of it can be discouraging, especially if it comes from people who don’t understand what you’re trying to achieve. You are the person who can envision your project the clearest, so trust in your own criticism and judgement. Unfortunately, a lot of artists are overly critical and beat themselves up too much, but it is through evaluation that we create masterpieces. The trick is to find the right balance and go easier on yourself where credit is due.
Lately, I have surprised myself with my intuitive editing. I just seem to know when something is as it should be or when it needs to be tweaked. I suppose it helps that I tend to whip up pretty good first drafts, but even so… my editing skills have definitely improved! I am currently sorting out my third book and I can say with full confidence that you definitely learn more about the craft as you go along.
What I usually do is read through my manuscript and highlight any bits in red that need fixing later. Other things, like typos and grammatical errors, can be fixed straight away. I very rarely have to do much major restructuring because I plan my stories in advance, so my editing mainly involves tightening up the prose and removing redundant words.
Whatever project you may be working on, remember that it is your creation and you should know what’s best for it. There’s plenty of advice online if you’re unsure what to do or need to brush up on your technique, but you’ll learn a lot with experience. Just keep at it and keep sculpting your project until you sense that it is complete.