Learn to Recognize the Blind Spots in Your Writing

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Do you know what your blind spots are? You know, those areas around us that are obstructed so we can’t see past them.

Drivers have their blind spots that prevents them from seeing a pedestrian crossing the street behind them. Hockey goalies have blind spots too when an opposing player parks his body in front of the net so the goalie cannot see around him.

Writers have blind spots too. Usually, it’s about some aspect of their writing skill, like a lack of knowledge about grammar or the tendency to use the same words over and over. Sometimes you’re aware of those tendencies, but choose to ignore them. Other times, you’re not aware you have a blind spot. “Your writing is just fine as it is,” you say to yourself. “It doesn’t need to be fixed.”

Then there are the blind spots that appear in our stories. Perhaps you focus exclusively on exciting creating action scenes. You want to thrill readers with car chases and non-stop fight scenes. However, there may be little written about the protagonist – their emotional side, their backstory, their desire and motivation.

Your blind spot is your inability to see that your story is one-sided. All action, and little to no narrative. Readers may love the action scenes, but feel the story is lacking. It’s out of balance.

Writers can fall in love with different aspects of their story to the detriment of others. They may hate writing dialogue and focus exclusively on internal narrative.

We all have blind spots in our writing. Acknowledging that you have blind spots is half the battle. The rest is knowing what they are so you can improve your writing.

So how do we recognize the blind spots within ourselves? Experts say it’s easier to spot them in others than in ourselves. There are several approaches to recognizing your own blind spots.

1. Take time for self-reflection. You can get so busy with the demands of everyday life that you neglect to check in with yourself. Those moments when you are alone with your thoughts can help you become more aware of what you think or feel at any time. You can develop greater self-awareness through meditation, fitness or just sitting quietly too. No matter what method you use, you can learn to look within. Don’t be afraid of what you might see there either. We all have our faults, and many times, we’re afraid to admit we have them. Nurturing self-awareness can help you learn to accept all parts of yourself – the good, the bad and the blind spots.  

2. Seek feedback from a trusted friend. Since it is so much easier to identify blind spots in others than in ourselves, it might be a good idea to pair up with a trusted friend or fellow writer. Ask them to review your work with you. They may be able to see things in your writing (and in your personality) that you may not recognize in yourself. Their input can put things into proper perspective. They can help you identify weaknesses in your writing and offer suggestions for improving your story. Be prepared to take their suggestions to heart, no matter how painful it might be to hear them say it.

3. Separate yourself from your work. As difficult as it might sound, you are not your writing. While it’s true that much of yourself appears in your writing, that doesn’t mean that you and your writing life are one and the same. At some point, you have to detach from your work and look at it from an emotional distance. Without emotion clouding your judgement, you’ll be able to see the weaknesses in your story.  

Author Tom Avitabile suggests that writers “rinse all knowledge of the story from your mind.” When it’s time to review or edit your work-in-progress, either read the chapters out of sequence or in reverse order from back to front. Reviewing scenes out of order can help you focus on each individual piece, which can help you notice problem areas.

4. Target specific areas of improvement. There may be several weaknesses in your writing that may be occurring simultaneously. Focus on one or two areas at a time. For example, you might need help building your vocabulary, eliminating redundancies in your writing or developing flat characters. You may not notice that you repeat the same conversations in your story or use the same words over and over. Once you become aware that this is happening, you can focus on one aspect of your writing to improve. If you try to fix all your blind spots at one time, it can be overwhelming.  

We all have our blind spots. But by nurturing self-awareness and learning to review your work with emotional detachment, you’ll learn to recognize the blind spots that are holding you back from being the writer you were meant to be.  

More about Blind Spots

How to Avoid Blind Spots in Your Writing
https://arimeghlen.co.uk/2016/05/20/how-to-avoid-blind-spots-in-your-writing/

Confront Your Blind Spots: 5 Strategies for Self-Discovery
https://www.recruiter.com/i/confront-your-blind-spots-5-strategies-for-self-discovery/#:~:text=A%20blind%20spot%20is%20something,re%20supposed%20to%20be%20perfect.

Five Signs That You’re Ready to Join a Writer’s Group

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This week’s writing prompt: What date on the 2021 calendar do you have circled? Is there a special event that you are looking forward to this year? Why is this date circled?

Writing is often a solo journey, but sometimes you need to pick up a few passengers along the way. You may be at a point where you need to hear different perspectives about your work-in-progress or pick up tips from fellow writers. Perhaps you hit a wall and can’t seem to write another word. That’s when you may benefit from joining a writer’s group.

Not every writer needs or wants to join a writer’s group. They can get by with working in isolation before sharing their work with two or three close confidants. Other writers, especially beginning writers or hobbyists, relish the social interaction and feedback that groups provide.  

Wherever you are on the writer’s spectrum, there will come a time when you will want to seek support or feedback for your work. That’s where a writer’s group might be a practical move on your part. Sometimes the insights of other writers can point you in the right direction – or a different one that you had not considered.

Writer’s groups aren’t for everyone, however. There are a few dangers to groups, writes Jennie Nash in this guest post at JaneFriedman.com. You may find that the writers in the group are either more experienced or are all beginners. You will have to decide what level of writers you want to work with. Writers who are struggling with their own writing may not be the best judge of your work.

Other times, members may not know how to give constructive feedback because they either don’t want to offend you or because they simply don’t know what they should be commenting on, Nash adds. In those instances, it might help to express what you want them to look for. Generic feedback may not help you improve your writing. But a more specific request, such as whether the dialogue sounds natural, may be more helpful.

Then there is the decision to join a writer’s group. How do you know you are ready to take the plunge? Here are five signs that you might be ready to join a writer’s group.

1. You’re tired of working in isolation. When you work solo most of the time, it’s necessary to grab some social time to balance your writing schedule. This is especially important during the current pandemic where most of us are working from home. A writer’s group can provide that social outlet. Whether you decide to meet once a week or once a month, you can develop some meaningful friendships while improving your craft.

2. You want feedback on your current work-in-progress. Perhaps you’ve been plugging away on a novel that just doesn’t’ seem to be moving along at the pace you intended. Or your characters seem flat, or you’re unsure where to go next with the plot. Having other writers review and provide feedback on your work can help you figure out what you may doing wrong and what you can do to fix it. Your group members may see things that you don’t. 

3. Your productivity is lagging. You want accountability for your writing practice so you can stay productive and meet your writing goals and deadlines. Since writing is more of a marathon than a sprint, a writer’s group can provide the support you need through the long haul.

4. You’re looking for beta readers to test out story ideas. You’ve come up with one or two story ideas, but you’re uncertain whether there’s enough substance to make them work. A writer’s group can help you assess the story, whether it needs more development or whether to save a scene or two for another plot, or simply to dump the idea altogether. Again, member feedback can give you needed perspective.

5. You’ve exhausted all the traditional modes of learning your craft. Through a writer’s group, members can swap stories of personal experience, learn from one another, and exchange writing resources. It’s another form of education beyond classes and workshops.

Before signing up for a writer’s group, however, you need to assess your own writing needs. According to Brooke McIntyre in this guest post at Jane Friedman’s blog, there are several questions you need to ask yourself.

* What is your writing experience? Are you a beginner or are you more experienced. Joining a group of beginners may test the patience of a more experienced writer.

* Do you have a completed manuscript to share now? Or are you more interested in a group that will motivated you through the finish?

* Do you have a consistent practice currently? Or are you looking for motivation to start a consistent practice?

* Where do you want to go with your writing? What can a writer’s group do for you now to help you get there? What do you want from it?

* What other ways are you developing your writing progress? Have you attended workshops and classes? Have you read books, blogs and magazine articles to learn about writing? If you’ve exhausted all these avenues, then a writer’s group might be the next step.

Once you understand where you are in your writing practice, where you want to go and how to get there, you can decide if you’re truly ready to join a writer’s group.

How to Give Writing Feedback — Thoughtfully and Effectively

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Whether you’re part of a writer’s group or manage a department of creatives, you may be called upon to give feedback about someone else’s work. It can be doubly difficult to critique someone’s work, especially if you like and respect that person. You don’t want to upset them or discourage them from writing more. On the contrary, you want to provide feedback that will challenge them to produce better work.

Most experts agree that it’s important to provide some positive comments along with negative feedback. Critiques without positive comments can be devastating to creative types, who are naturally sensitive about work that they’ve poured their heart and soul into. Negative critiques can make writers feel their work has no redeeming value, and they may be tempted to give up writing altogether. There is always something positive to find about someone’s work. A good editor will see it and won’t hesitate to share it.

So what’s the best way to handle critiques? How can you provide meaningful feedback that supports and encourages other people to produce better work without crushing their soul? Here are a few tips for giving effective feedback.

1. Read the piece thoroughly. If it’s a shorter piece, like an essay or news article, read it several times. Here’s how I like to assess a written work: The first time through, I read to get the gist of the story. During the second reading, I make notes about technical issues, like grammar, punctuation and run-on sentences. The third time through, I make notes about content issues. Are there confusing plot points? Does the story flow seamlessly, or are there sticking points where nothing appears to be happening? It’s usually during that third reading that the biggest issues pop out like a neon sign. If possible, avoid reading the piece right before meeting with the writer. It simply does not allow enough time to mull over the writing.

2. Find the story’s good qualities. Don’t just focus on mistakes and confusing content. Start with sharing the positive qualities of the story. Some managers and editors have used the sandwich method for critiquing a person’s work — couching negative feedback between two positive statements. According to the Grammarly blog, some editorial experts claim that this method isn’t effective in providing constructive criticism. I see nothing wrong with this approach, however. I suspect that its lack of effectiveness has more to do with not properly communicating constructive feedback.

Here’s how the sandwich method works:

“I love your story idea. I think it’s sharp and witty, and a lot of people will appreciate the humor. However, I noticed a tendency for run-on sentences. Perhaps you were thinking faster than you could write? Sometimes it helps to read aloud your story so you notice those run-on sentences. Once you fix those run-on sentences, I think you’ll have a stronger story..

You notice that I not only pointed out the weakness of the story, I offered a suggestion for fixing it.

3. Choose your words carefully. According to the Balance Careers blog, it might be helpful to begin statements with “I” rather than “You.” The “you” focus can be perceived as a personal attack, which you want to avoid. Focus on your own response to the story. Instead of saying, “Your story is boring,” say “I found the story boring in some sections.”

Be honest with your critique, but approach it with the intent of helping the writer improve their work. Always offer suggestion or tips, but refrain from directing the writer how to fix things. Respect them enough to give them space for resolving their own writing issues.

4. Provide detail… Don’t just mention the issue, but provide some detail. Don’t just say, “I thought your story was boring.” Explain why you thought it was boring. Was the entire piece boring to you, or just one or two paragraphs? Was there too much narrative when you were looking for more dialogue? Did the story need more conflict? Did the story move off on a tangent that was difficult to follow and had nothing to do with the story? The more feedback you provide can help the writer analyze their story with an eye on improving it.

5. …But don’t nitpick. You might notice a lot of things wrong with the story. In that case, for the sake of your working relationship, focus on only one or two things that the writer can easily fix. Remember, your role is to provide helpful, practical suggestions.

6. Call out recurring mistakes right away. If you have read several pieces by the same writer over time and notice that they tend to make the same mistakes over and over again, you need to call them out right away, suggests the marketing experts at Hubspot. Don’t just fix the problems for them without mentioning it. If necessary, make the correction and show it to them so they see how to fix it. The only way they will learn not to make the same mistakes again is to make them aware of them in the first place. The sooner you mention those errors, the sooner they can learn to correct them on their own.

7. Ask questions to guide the writer. According to Grammarly, when you ask the writer questions about their work, it gets them to thinking about how to solve their own writing issues. It guides them to resolve the issues on their own rather than you telling them how to do it. For example, you might suggest, “Is there a way to simplify this paragraph, perhaps edit it for shorter sentences? It might make the story easier to read.”

8. Don’t make it personal. Critique the work, not the writer. Set aside whatever personal feelings you have toward the writer and focus on the work in front of you.

Remember these are works-in-progress, not finished pieces. Your job is to provide feedback to help the writer improve their work and sharpen their skills. Think about those times when you’ve had your own work critiqued. How did you feel when you received feedback? Did you feel deflated and discouraged, or were you energized and excited about moving forward with your story? Be the editor you’d like others to be with your own work.