Writing advice – learn to take criticism

April 14th, 2019

A young woman doing a creative writing degree at University recently messaged me with a number of questions about my career. Her last question was, ‘Can you give me three tips for up and coming writers?’

The usual advice that writers trot out is ‘read read read’ and ‘write write write’ – because both those things are basic and essential, and far too many people think they can skip them and still become a published writer.

But on this occasion I thought I’d go a little deeper.

Very early on in my career, I was commissioned to write a play for Terrapin puppet theatre. I had no idea of the process, so when I submitted my first draft, and they called me in for a meeting to discuss it, I thought they were just going to say nice things about the script, and maybe ask for a few small changes.

*hollow laugh*

The artistic director, the designer and the puppeteers sat me down and took me through every line of that script. ‘Why does this happen?’ they asked. ‘Why does it happen now?’

It was one of the most traumatic experiences of my writing life – and it taught me a huge amount. It also forced me to understand that, as a writer, you have to be able to take criticism. Because that’s you become a better writer.

So that was my #1 tip: ‘Learn to take criticism. Your writing is your baby, and you want everyone to love it. When they don’t, it’s easy to get defensive and reject what people say, or argue with them. Resist that temptation. Listen to what they say and let the criticism sit with you for a while before you decide to accept or reject it.’

#2 tip next week.

2 thoughts on “Writing advice – learn to take criticism

  1. Carla says:

    Hi, Lian. I love your stories, I want to be a writer, I want to write an interesting book, something that makes the reader gets excited, like your books does with me. But I don’t know how to start. I think you invent countries and places? Do you think I can tru to do it to make the book diferent? I was thinking to draw a map, and write a story in each place, or write that the characters travel… What do you think?

    1. Lian Tanner says:

      Hi Carla, thanks for the message, and I’m so glad that you find my books exciting. I work very hard to make them that way. 🙂 I’m sure you can write your own exciting stories, and a map is a great way to start. I often get people to draw maps in my writing workshops, and then mark in the places where exciting things happen. I don’t know if you’ve read Icebreaker, but there is a great map in the front of that.

      Let me tell you a secret about writing exciting stories. You need three things.
      1. Someone who wants someone really badly. They must want it badly because if they only want it a little bit they’ll give up as soon as they hit the first problem, and that’s not at all exciting.
      2. High stakes – i.e. if they don’t get what they want, something terrible will happen.
      3. Problems and obstacles. If someone wants something and they get it easily, that’s pretty boring. You need things they have to fight past, to get what they want. The problem might be someone who’s working against them, or it might be a physical thing like a high cliff (and they’re scared of heights) or a terrible storm.

      Let me know how you go with your story.

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