Do You Need to Lower Your Standards So You Can Write More?

Do You Need to Lower Your Standards So You Can Write More?

Do You Need to Lower Your Standards So You Can Write More?
Photo by Alan Levine / via Flickr

Do You Need to Lower Your Standards So You Can Write More?

What an interesting concept: lower your standards so you can write more.

I can't remember the article I read or which author it was about, but the idea was that if you want to publish a ton of books, you need to lower your standards.

So many inner critics stand in the way of us getting a decent book out to readers. They convince us that our novels need to be perfect before they can see the light of day. Pair that with the competitive publishing industry and it's any wonder anybody actually gets through to print with a traditional publisher. But somebody has to. I've read several young adult novels by debut authors recently, and obviously, they got through.

There's a lot of work involved in writing a novel. That's no secret. If you're working on your first novel, or even your fifth novel, it's going to take time to fine-tune plot lines and characterization. And to get readers connected on an emotional level, you have to get to know your characters and write from the place they're most afraid of. That takes time. It takes work to pull out those details.

How do you get to the point where you can accept the condition of your novel?

I've read a ton of books on how to write a great novel, how to write the first five pages and stay out of the slush pile, how to create dynamic characters, how to write meaningful dialogue that actually serves the story, how to structure the plot, and how to heighten the stakes and intensify the conflict. These books offer really great advice, and if you follow the exercises and practice the techniques, your writing skills will surely improve.

But the issue with all of this is that there's so much to learn that if you are waiting until your writing skills reach a certain level before you publish your work, there's a good chance you may never be satisfied.

I think a lot of people think you can become a writing expert in a short amount of time. Like you can whip out a novel and publish it and it will become a huge success. I can't even begin to express how misguided this picture is. If a writer has studied the craft for years, treating it like a college degree and practicing techniques, then there's a good chance some skills have become second nature and he can knock out a novel in a short amount of time. Putting the time and effort into studying the craft up front before writing a novel is extremely helpful.

How do you know where your skills need to be? If you want to see your work in print, you have to be willing to come to terms with the fact that your writing skills are nowhere near where they will be in 10 years, even a year from now. But you need to have a great story, and you need to put your best effort into it. And if you're going the traditional route, you also need to find the right agent who can get it to the right publisher.

Over time, we learn techniques. We gain insight on mistakes. And as we read other books, we learn the things we should avoid in our own writing. We gain knowledge and wisdom the more we read and write and the older we get.

Lowering standards doesn't necessarily mean we allow ourselves to produce crummy writing. It just means we're willing to accept that we've put our best effort into the work even when we know the writing isn't perfect. If reading through some of your first writing (or even your writing from a year ago) makes you cringe, you're on the right track. Your skills are improving. And it's time to get your work out to your readers. 🙂

Jody Calkins
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