Wednesday, August 27, 2014

STFU. Listen.

Warning, uncensored and dangerous thoughts beyond the cut...

A writing crony described a conference she attended. Three published authors spoke. Three published authors gave the same advice: Just Keep Writing.

My friend spread her hands. "I really wanted to know-What comes next?"

The conversation meandered on, but the question resonated. I wondered what my response would have been if I'd been on that panel and been asked that question.

In the weeks that followed, numerous possible responses occurred to me. Grammar and punctuation classes. Studying speech patterns and natural sounding dialogue. Self-editing. Voice. POV. Critique partners. Beta-reading. Synopsis. Query letters. Publishing options.

Show, sneers a snide inner-voice, Don't tell.

The list goes on and on and on. Yet none of it means anything if you're not willing to shut up and listen

And there you have it. If I'd been on that panel, my advice would be to close your mouth and hone your listening skills. It doesn't matter how good you think you are. There's always room for improvement. It goes for newbies and for seasoned professionals. (Yes, it goes for me too, especially for me...)

Maybe you had some success as a writer early on. Won a grade school award. Best writer in your class. Published in the high school fine arts journal. Wrote for a newspaper. 

Yeah, me too.

Starting out, you still suck. Everyone does but it's hardest for new writers to admit. Often, family and friends have heaped on accolades. Ego inflation is set to maximum while the experience necessary to recognize errors is lacking. And the giant shoulder chip makes it difficult to listen to the voice of wisdom if, and when, a literary Yoda pops up from the swamp.

To quote Chuck Palahniuk (Fight Club):

“You are not special. You're not a beautiful and unique snowflake."


Lots and lots of people will offer advice. Some of it will be good, some terrible. Distinguishing gold from dross can be quite the trick of judgement. However, when advice is sought, listen up, especially when you asked for it in the first place. The person speaking may be an inferior writer, avid reader, or experienced editor. 

If you thought highly enough of that person to ask, then STFU and listen.

You may not agree that your first-person story would be better told in third. 
They say, "There's too many fragments." You whine, "But it's my style."
"But this is ridiculous and makes no sense," they which you reply, "You don't know what you're talking about."

Seriously, close your trap and listen. Almost everyone has something of value to teach you, about human nature if nothing else. Listen, and you'll become a better writer. And remember, you you owe them the respect of hearing what they have to say.

Unless, of course, the advice is unsolicited. Then I suggest one pithy phrase:

Shut the fuck up.

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