How Do You Know If Your Writing Is Getting Better?

This post, by Janice Hardy, originally appeared on her The Other Side of the Story blog on 1/20/11.

A reader asked…
For writers who, like me, have yet to publish anything (For pay) it’d be nice to better gauge where we’re improving, and what weaknesses are still holding us back, are there some exercises or self-study things we can do to figure it out, so we know where to go from there?
Oh boy, this one’s a toughie. There really are no checklists that will say if you’re improving or not. And it’s something that’s really hard to tell on our own, because it’s hard to be subjective about our own work. But I know how frustrated I was by this very same thing, so I’ll do my best to try to provide some way to help here.

I did do a post on the tour that gave guidelines for some general level ranges, and that could help some to see where you might be and what skills you might focus on to get to the next level.You can also look at old critiques to see what comments you regularly got, and check new crits to see if you’re still getting those comments. If the feedback is the same, that’s a good indication that you’re still making the same mistakes and might have stalled. But if you’re making all new mistakes, that’s an indication that you’re improving. You can also look at your old and new work and try to be objective, and review it as if you were critiquing someone else.

To give examples on how you might go about this, I went through old files and found some of my writing from as far back as college. It might help to share some of those and crit myself to see where I improved and where I needed work. Hopefully it’ll give you ideas for things to look for in your own work, and questions to ask, like, are you still telling emotions through adverbs or are you dramatizing scenes? Is there a solid POV or is the narrator floating about somehow? Are you giving the reader reasons to care about your characters?
1992-ish:This is from an idea I had that became my training novel. This draft was handwritten in pencil, so that shows you how long ago I wrote it. Eventually I wrote it "for real" with the intent to sell, but these pages aren’t there yet. This is the opening of the first chapter.
The Griff Inn was a dark, dreary little tavern that sat on the end of an equally dark and dreary street. Its windows were dirty, its floors unswept and its customers were an accurate cross-reference of the riff raff of Kintari. It drew the thieves as easily as the murderers, and that naturally brought in the charlatans, the highwaymen and the local scum.
Let’s just say it was not the moral backbone of the city and leave it at that, shall we?

It was, however, Aradelle’s destination and she walked through the darkened streets with none of the fear the average person would feel in the same situation.

I cringe reading this. It’s all told, there’s this weird omniscient first person-esque narrator, there’s no hook. Now, it’s not horrific, as it has a bit of a voice that’s kinda nice, and I can see the beginnings of my style starting to come through. There’s storytelling, weak as it is, and it’s going somewhere (eventually). To crit myself, I’d say I need to work on POV in a big way and work on showing, not telling. Get deeper in the head of my POV (and pick a real POV) and show the world through their eyes. Since I’m following Aradelle here, she’d be my choice. (And a decade later she was).
1995-ish: Same story a few years later. Again, the opening chapter.


Read the rest of the post on The Other Side of the Story.

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