Never Give Up on Your Writing

Never Give Up on Your Writing

Never Give Up on Your Writing


Today, I am ready to feature Barbara Pattee, who has an amazing message about never giving up. Barbara is writing a romance novel, but one that dabbles a little in crime.

“I like romance that is a little more than ‘boy meets girl,’ or ‘girl meets boy,’ where everything ends happily ever after,” Barbara said.

Barbara joined the Writing Gym after years of writing on her own. For as long as she can remember, she felt compelled to express herself through her writing.

“I’ve always been a writer,” she said. “I used to write in secret, because it wasn’t considered an important career. I even learned how to do shorthand.”

Her writing has taken many forms over the years. She has done short stories, poetry, and memoir pieces–including one she put together from stories her father told her when he had fallen ill.

“He started talking about his childhood, I started writing notes, and I wrote a memoir based on what he said,” Barbara said. “I read it to him, and he loved it.”


As much as Barbara enjoyed writing, there was something about it that left her unfulfilled.

“I wasn’t happy,” she said. “I knew that I wanted more. I’ve wanted to write something full-length.”

Barbara knew she wanted to write a novel. However, when she sought feedback–professional writers, writing groups, etc.–she encountered a lot of resistance.

Yet Barbara wouldn’t allow this to deter her from her dream.

“I said I would never give up,” she said. “And I didn’t.”

Like many writers, Barbara has her share of horror stories about what can happen when you look for feedback in the wrong places. One professor, a professional writer herself, read one of Barbara’s stories and drowned her in a torrent of negative criticism.

“She hated it,” Barbara said. “But classmates came to me, some in tears, saying they loved what I wrote. So I was getting a mixed messages.”

The feedback wasn’t helping at all; if anything, it hurt. Then, at a writers’ conference, Barbara saw Storytelling for Pantsers. She felt as if the book had been written just for her.

“I started reading it, and I thought, ‘She’s talking to me. She’s saying what I’m feeling,'” Barbara said.

“I have dozens and dozens of books (about writing) that did not move me. But Storytelling for Pantsers spoke to me.”

The book spoke to Barbara’s aversion to outlining her stories. Finally, she had confirmation of what she believed:

She didn’t need an outline to write a good story.

“I’m a pantser,” she said. “I can’t do outlines. I had to do it in school and I hated it from the beginning.”

Reading the book inspired Barbara to get on a call with me.

“The call was very encouraging,” she said. “I liked that you don’t tell us we have to do something. What you do is you make suggestions, give us ideas, and ask us questions to answer.”

I invited Barbara to join the Writing Gym, and she accepted. Since then, we have been working together on her novel. Barbara enjoys the information and encouragement she get from the video modules on the Writing Gym website. She also loves the Salons, in which writers get together, write for 20 minutes based on a prompt, and share their writing with each other.

“There’s no negativity in Salon,” Barbara said. “And you also get feedback on what other writers hear in your story. Some things you may not think are that important wind up being extremely important and that encourages me as a writer.”

During one of the early Salons, Barbara wrote a piece that involved slavery, similar to the one her college professor had treated with disdain. As she shared it with the other writers, she braced herself for another barrage of negative feedback.

“I thought, ‘Am I going to get slammed again?’” Barbara remembers. “But I wasn’t. I was encouraged, and that was beautiful.”

Barbara said she has grown a great deal as a writer since joining the Gym.

Barbara’s writing is thriving. She credits her encouragement from me, and from her fellow “Gym Rats,” for helping her summon the courage to be vulnerable in her storytelling.

I have added a lot more emotion in my stories, which, as a child growing up I was taught that I had to hold back. But, as a writer, I have to look inside myself, think about what I am feeling.

In the Writing Gym, we talk a lot about the inner critic.

Listening to your inner critic can hold you back in your writing, and you have to learn to silence it in order to maximize your storytelling potential.

Barbara has wrestled with her inner critic for years. But now, she’s winning!

“My inner critic is upset, because she doesn’t have much to say now,” she said. “I’m smiling a lot more. Even my husband has noticed that.”

Barbara has been an amazing advocate of the Writing Gym; she recommends it to whoever will listen.

“I tell them about what it’s like being in the Writing Gym, and I’ve tried to encourage them to join,” she said. “I’m hoping that they will join even before my book is published. But after it’s published, I know they’re going to want to join.”

Barbara realizes that the Writing Gym isn’t for everyone. She knows it’s not a place for hobbyists.

“I think it’s really about deciding how serious you are,” she said about joining the Gym. “How much do you want to be a writer? Is it a hobby, or is it something you want as a career?”

Barbara has made her choice; she wants a writing career, and she’s willing to put in the work to get there. The more progress she makes, the more resolute she becomes.

“I will not give up. I’m going to continue.”

Thank you so much, Barbara! We love having you in the Writing Gym!

If you’re serious about your writing career, we’d love to chat with you. 


Too many cooks spoil the cupcakes: How to solicit the best feedback from the get-go

Too many cooks spoil the cupcakes: How to solicit the best feedback from the get-go

Too many cooks spoil the cupcakes: How to solicit the best feedback from the get-go

Writing tips how to get good writing feedbackIt is said “too many cooks spoil the cupcakes,” or something like that. Was it soup? Broth? Doesn’t matter; the point is: the same is true for excessive feedback on writing. Once we’ve solicited a lot of feedback, it can be difficult to figure out which voices to listen to in order to discover the final direction for a piece of writing.

Here are some writing tips to keep your sweet little nuggets of writing genius from going sour.

Know when your piece or writing is ready to share. To everything a time and a season.

There’s a moment for creation and a moment for polishing. Imagine you were going to bake cupcakes, so you take out all all the ingredients, then invite me over. You show me the flour, the mixing bowl, and the cute little paper cups. “What do you think of my cupcakes?” you ask.

Now, if I start meddling in your process, asking questions like “Why did you choose vanilla instead of chocolate?” or offered advice such as “Use multicolored sprinkles on your frosting for better appeal,” you might feel so overwhelmed by all the possibility that you never follow through and make the cupcakes.

The same is true for the creative process. Like baking, if I share before a piece is fully formed, I will get feedback that both impedes my creative process and the piece’s potential to come to fruition.

Writing tips how to get good writing feedbackImagine instead that you bake the cupcakes and then invite me over for a taste. Then I might ask questions such as “Why did you make vanilla over chocolate?” to help me understand your process. But it’s more likely–because the cupcakes are fully-formed–that I can go deeper and give you feedback that will help you make better cupcakes next time. As your friend who cares deeply for your development as a cupcake baker, I can offer suggestions such as “Use more egg next time for lighter cupcakes.” or “Use less sugar in the frosting.”

This type of feedback will really help you to improve your baking rather than confuse or overwhelm you.

The bottom line is: don’t confuse the creative process with the critique process. Critique should only happen once a piece is as fully formed as you can get it.

But what if you’re stuck and want feedback to move you forward?

When this happens to me, when a stubborn character won’t move or I don’t know what he says next, I come up with one specific question and play a “what if” game.

For example, recently I decided to add a plot line to a novel I have under revision. I knew the general direction I wanted to go, but I also wanted a spur on my creative self. So I sat down to dinner with friends and said “Suppose there’s this mysterious couple living across the hall….”

After I’d explained the scenario, my creative friends threw in lots of “what ifs” that helped confirm some plot ideas I had and gave me a new direction for my thinking. The conversation also had the added benefit of re-energizing me about my work. My friends’ enthusiasm rubbed off on me, and I approached the plotting with new eyes. All of this happened without a single bit of feedback on what I had actually written or conversation about the plot as it stood. I protected the piece from premature scrutiny, and was able to spur myself back into creativity.

Get the right kind of feedback at the right time

I once read about a famous women’s lit author who gets through the loneliness of the creative phase by having a celebration for her writing. In order to hold herself accountable for completion, she pledges to provide X chapters to her friends every month, week, whatever. During the creation phase, her friends only tell her what they liked.  This positive feedback helps her to move forward with the creation phase. Once she’s completed a finished product, she’ll revise and then ask for content feedback.

There’s an important distinction between the creative function and the critique function–you are using two separate parts of your brain. Keeping those functions separate is an important part of enhancing creativity and bringing a piece to completion.

Writing tips how to get good writing feedbackTo continue the cupcake analogy, you don’t want intricate baking advice from someone who can’t really evaluate the situations. Sure, we all love cupcakes, but that doesn’t make us experts on baking them. It only makes us experts on what we like and don’t like. Readers and writing workshops can give us feedback on what they like and don’t like, but they don’t necessarily have the technical expertise to talk about how to increase tension, where to enhance or reduce dialogue, or when  to use understatement. For that kind of quality feedback, you need to work with people who truly understand the intricacies of quality writing, how to explain it, and how to help a writer to implement it.

It’s important to have a coach or critique group who knows the difference between the creative process and the critique process and when and how to give feedback one each.

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