The Writer's Corner: Becoming My Own Critic
Warning: This article discusses suicide and suicidal ideation.
Have you ever gone back to read some of your earlier writing? Not something you wrote last month or even last year, but writing from years ago. I recently read over the first book I had ever written and remembered how writing that book felt magical at the time. It simply felt good to write, because I was knee deep in one of my writing frenzies – an event in which I just let my fingers do all of the talking without thought, anticipation, or form. My writing frenzies are usually unplanned and untimed. When I am in this zone, it doesn’t matter to me for the story to make sense for others, for the grammar to be perfect, for the sentences to flow, or to even have a story to tell. It simply matters that I have something I want– nay, need–to get out of me. That is what happened when I wrote The Dead Sea Lion. I had a writing frenzy that led to me typing thousands of words on my laptop in just six hours.
I remember being thoroughly impressed with myself for being able to gather up enough mental fortitude to record such a life altering narrative about suicidal ideation within 24 hours of the incident. Since suicidal ideation is something that takes place in the mind, being able to communicate the depth of my thoughts and feelings said a lot about my resilience as a person and my skills as a writer. While I don’t want to take away from how therapeutic and freeing writing that book was for me, reading it
with my current skill set and mental clarity made some parts cringe worthy. I was put off by the many errors in my work such as repetitive phrases, overuse of adjectives and adverbs, and a lack of continuity to keep the reader engaged with the timeline of events. If I hadn’t experienced the events in the story myself, I doubt that I could even keep up with how ungracefully I jumped around the timeline of my story. I think I was caught in a writing bubble surrounded by my grief and my laptop was the only thing I had to work through the energies I was feeling. As compelling as my story about suicide recovery was for me, the writing from my first book now reads as someone missing the skill and finesse of a seasoned writer. These revelations have shown me that having a critical and healthy reflection of my past work in comparison to my skills today will serve to make me a better writer.
Don’t Wait, Just Write!
There have been many factors that have contributed to my development as a writer, many of which I write about in my past works. The number one factor that aided my development is writing. Writing is the main act a person can perform to become a better writer. I have found that the more I write, the better I get. And by more, I don’t just mean the number of words that I write, I also mean the frequency at which I write and the different kinds of stories I tell. If I could part this article with just one piece of advice, it would be to just write. Don’t wait for a sense of direction before starting to write. In my experience, just starting to write will lead you in the direction you need to go. That is what I did in 2015 when I wrote my first book, and I’ve been just writing ever since then. Writing is like any other muscle or skill – we have to work at it in order to experience changes. The changes that I have experienced since writing my first book have to do with gains in stamina, strength, voice, and purpose.
Build Stamina Over Time
Stamina involves going the distance. In my first book, I wrote the first 10,000 words in three hours and eventually wrote another almost 10,000 in about three more. As far as I knew, that piece was the longest piece I had ever written in my life. When I began writing my second book, I wrote 22,000 words over the course of a couple of weeks. I couldn’t believe I had so many words in me, let alone the stamina to complete such a project. By the time I got to my third book, those 28,000 words came quite easily over a matter of a couple months. Although the rate at which I wrote slowed down – meaning it was taking me longer and longer to write - the quality of my writing was improving. With each increase in word count I found that I could write for longer periods of time. For my first book, I was focused on getting the story out quickly and it shows. By the time I got to my fourth book of 67,000 words, I was focusing more on getting the story out carefully and the differences between the works are obvious. The stamina that I was building turned out to be more about taking the time to create a quality piece which made the quantity take care of itself.
Recognize Your Strength
Much like in the gym, developing strength as a writer is the result of heavy lifting. The heavy lifting I did was writing about a topic that carried the weight of my entire being. For some people, writing about personal experience may come easily. I think it does for me, because I’ve kept journals throughout my life. But writing about my life to myself was very different from writing about my life for the world to read. What encouraged me to write about such a sensitive topic was the reality that suicidal ideation and suicide attempts aren’t something I experienced alone. Millions of people are affected by suicide everyday and having survived, I felt it was my duty to share my story so that others who are affected will feel empowered to share their story too. The deeper I expounded the topic of suicide in my life, the more confident I felt as a writer. Seeing the results of that exploration into self has given me the strength and courage to tackle any topic.
Listen to Your Voice
There is a lot of talk about voice in writing, and I won’t get into technical jargon about what a writing voice is supposed to be. Since I keep journals, I already had an idea that I had a writing voice, but I didn’t know what my voice sounded like. I couldn’t really read my writing and say, “This is something written by Tracie Chavonne,” because I had never really read my writing from outside of my mind. I have been my only audience. Writing for others to read my work shifted something in me. I suddenly desired to be able to find my identity in my writing. In my first book, I can hear my voice peaking over the horizon but not quite fully there. It was developing. Nowadays when I read my writing, my voice is so clear to me, and I am constantly learning to stretch, deepen, and retract it the more I write. Much like a singer can manipulate their voice in song, so too can writers in their narratives.
Write with Purpose
After releasing my first book, I decided that I wanted to be a successful author, and I now see this as a part of my purpose in life. After reading my first book, I feel very grateful that I have had these years to get better at writing to fulfill that purpose. Purpose in writing is layered for me. Writing is something that I identify as a part of my purpose in life and each piece of writing must also have a purpose. I have already stated the purpose of The Dead Sea Lion – I wanted to share my story so that others who are affected will feel empowered to share their story too. Knowing that I had such purpose in my writing helps to validate the existence of the piece, despite the fact that it is not my best writing. And that is where its power and purpose further lie. The fact that the work is not my best writing plays a bigger role for me now than I could have ever predicted. Revisiting my work revealed something wonderful about my writer’s journey and that is a record of progress. I can see the areas in which I have grown as well as the areas where I have room to grow more. I can see snippets of stories that I want to continue to tell, and I can reaffirm the completion of the stories that I have already told. That deepens the purpose of the piece and my writing and being able to connect to purpose is a vital part of the writing process as well as a writing critique.
Become Your Own Critic
Criticism is a word that often gets a negative attribution, but criticism in writing is a classic and necessary tool of the writing process. Within a typical writing critique, the work being criticized is characterized by its structure, language, worth & value, strength and weaknesses, context, and overall purpose. Often criticism in writing comes from an external source, meaning someone else is critiquing the work. I’d like to propose the idea of becoming a critic of your past work in order to track your development as a writer. That critique should involve comparing your writing today to a piece that is at least a year old. The older the piece in comparison is, the better, because developing writing skills takes time. In addition to covering the normal aspects of a writing critique, take the time to think about how your writing process has changed. For example, I still have writing frenzies, but I have more conscious awareness when they are happening and my writing talents have increased to the point where I can even manage some editing in the middle of a frenzy, though it’s not necessary or consistent. Either way, it’s a change to my writing process that has benefited me greatly.
By approaching my reading with criticism, it is clear to me that I have grown beautifully as a writer. I now see great purpose having written the way that I did, and I am extremely grateful to my younger self for deciding to write at that time in my life. I had no idea that writing my first book would lead me on a path to creating a career in writing, but here I am now writing a blog about this small aspect of my writing journey with the hopes that someone else snuggles into this writing corner to share some part of their journey as well. So, what do you say? Do you have any older writing that you’d like to lovingly criticize? If not critique, just revisit to see just how far you’ve come in your life or in your writing? We’d love to hear your voice here at LYF. Just leave a comment below.
About the Author:
Tracie Chavonne is a writer, yoga instructor, flight attendant, energy reader, and student at UNLV. She has self-published several books about her life’s journey at Crescent Sol. Currently, Tracie is majoring in English for Creative Writing and is currently an intern for the Love Yourself Foundation.