Friday, 8 October 2010


Happy Friday everyone! How was your week? Mine's been really busy, what with plumbing the depths of angst in my writing and going out and about doing loads of creative writing workshops in local schools.

I've only got one more school visit to do, on Monday, and then that's me done for this year. While I enjoy working with young people a lot, I have to admit I'm relieved, because I'm sooo close to finishing this book now and I can't wait to get stuck in. Only about three more chapters to go! Hurrah!

Now, you may remember that not long ago I posted some questions from reader emails. Faithful blog reader Isabel left a question of her own in the comments. It went a little something like this:

I'm doing an essay (well, have been doing several) and have been getting some comments from teachers on my work and how I should change it that I sometimes don't quite agree with. What should I do when this happens and how do I know who to trust on giving me good tips? Just so you know, I go to a really small school where the writing teacher is the same as the math teacher is the same as the history teacher and so on. so the people who teach me writing class don't specialize in writing.

This is tricky. When you write, you need to believe in yourself. If you strongly disagree with someone's comments about your work you need to have the courage of your convictions and argue your case. On the other hand, your marks for your essays COME from your teachers, so you need to please them - because effectively they're the ones you're writing for, and if they say you haven't accomplished what they want and need, you won't get the marks you want and need.

In a way, this is a bit like a writer's normal life. We create a unique world and characters that belong to us and then agents and editors read it and come up with comments and often suggestions for changes. Sometimes those ideas are great and by going with them you find your work improves so much you can't believe you didn't think of it yourself (as often happens with me and my editor - thank you, Annalie!). Sometimes the comments seem so 'out there' that you wonder if the person making the comments even read the same thing you wrote, and you feel as if trying to follow their suggestions would really hurt your work.

Usually the answer to which way you need to go will lie within you. Quite often you will KNOW there are weak spots in your work. If the person making the comments has put their finger on something that bothered you when you wrote or re-read it - something that made you squirm a little bit and go 'Oh, well that'll do' - then they're very likely to be right. That doesn't necessarily mean you need to follow their suggestions exactly. I think often my editor makes outrageous suggestions just to stimulate my imagination! They are not you, which means their mind will work in a different way and their idea of how to fix the problem might be completely different than yours.

Combine what they've said with your own instincts and look for an answer that will fix the weak spot and make you happy. Sometimes it can take a while to figure it out (I find going for a long tramp with my dog helps) but it'll come eventually. Believe me, when you've fixed those weak spots you will feel much better about your work.

There are also times when a comment will come completely out of left field and you think: 'Oh no! How did I miss that? Oh &*)$F£"@?! Well, *I* don't know how to fix it! It's impossible!' and you decide to ignore it and hope they forget. Don't do that. Once again, you shouldn't expect to figure out an answer straight away. Don't get impatient and decide it can't be fixed and give up. Go over it calmly in your head and let it sit there for a while until you can see the light.

However, if you seriously believe that the suggestions your teacher has made are not going to improve your work, that they've missed the point, then stand by that opinion. Do your best to find and fix your own weak spots and mistakes. Often doing that will change things enough that their previous objections will go away.

If not, then chances are that while you're at school you will probably need to buckle under and do what your teacher wants in order to get the good marks you deserve. You don't really have the power to fight your teacher, and they're the final arbiter of what's 'good' when it comes to your essays. I had a teacher RUIN a poem of mine which was going to be published in a collection of work from local children when I was at school, and looking at it now I still can't understand what he was thinking, but if I had refused to listen to what he wanted the poem wouldn't have been published at all. I know this is not much fun - but then essays aren't much fun anyway (I didn't think so, when I was at school).

When it comes to writing stories of your own, though, you shouldn't ever 'buckle' this way and go against your heart and instincts. That takes all the fun and life out of things.

I hope this was helpful, Isabel - and as always, if anyone else has questions they'd like me to answer, pop them in the comments or send me an email, and I'll do my best to answer.


Saya said...

There's also the part where, especially if you're still in school, your writing is going to change A LOT - because you will change, because you will mature, because you'll read more books and learn new styles and because, just, LIFE. I don't know if it helps, but it's something I retroactively wish I had kept in mind when I was at school, and my teachers criticised what I wrote. I read it now, and I can see that it was appalling, although I deeply resented the criticism at the time.

Just for your amusement, Zoe - do you remember when Point Horror was huge? I was about 13, and I reckoned I could write one. I was all about being published at 13, yeah yeah, rah rah! I wrote a 'novel' and I thought it was great. I asked my English teacher to critique it, which she very kindly did, and she told me it was 'too...typical'. What a blow. I was mortified because I really did think it was great. My friends read it and they agreed (they were shocked by who the murderer was XD). I may still have the 'manuscript' somewhere...and yes, if I read it now, I think I would be less kind in my criticism than my teacher was. ('SHOCKING HOW COULD YOU WRITE SUCH TRASH BURN IT AND YOURSELF TOO')

Sometimes it takes a little time to be at a level where you know enough to honestly evaluate your own work. Again, especially if you're younger - you WILL be a better writer, and every writer will tell you they are 'still learning', but the only really important things are two: 1) keep writing, and 2) keep reading. Well, three: keep learning about who you are, because that is what really creates your writing.

Isabel said...

OHH, Thank You Thank You Thank You , Zoe!!!!!!! (and Saya too : ))
Soooo helpful. I just finished doing the happy dance, (quite embarrassing, thank goodness no one was there to see) it makes so much sense, and, as a HUGE fan, I got really excited just to see you answered my question. You are THE BEST, did you know that? And I'm really super glad that some other writer feels the same as me about essays. I felt guilty about disliking them, since I am a writing GEEK, and I should like all kinds of writing, right?
Thanks, again,
Isabel : ) : ) XD
Ahem. Excuse my happy faces.

Zoë Marriott said...

Saya: I wrote a Point Horror too! I can't remember much about it except that it started on opening night of a school play and a body fell from somewhere onto the stage. I'm sure it, too, was a black hole of horror. I also wrote a Mills and Boon when I was sixteen and...well, the least said about that the better. *Cringe*

Isabel: LOL! I'm glad the post was some use, and thank you. Just because you're a writing geek, that doesn't mean you have to like all writing, you know. Even Leonardi Da Vinci had the odd problem when he was given 'commissions' that didn't fit with what he really wanted to do. And I judge no one for their happy faces.

Isabel said...

Well, good, because I'm in a particularly smiley mood right now : ) (hee hee hee.)
And I'm glad I can officially, ahem, *dislike* essays.
Anyway, question. I am feeling kind of left out at the moment with all this talk of Point Horror and Mills and Boon. Please don't judge me, I live in the U.S., and I'm guessing its more of a U.K. thing (?) and I don't really read horror or whatever other stuff your talking about, and so . . . I don't know what these series are. I'm guessing they're series, right?
So . . . Somebody fill me in?
Isabel =D

Zoë Marriott said...

Sorry, Isabel! Yes, these are UK series - Point Horror was something like the Goosebumps series you've probably heard of, only aimed at slightly older readers and written by lots of different authors. They were a HUGE success here in the nineties. Mills and Boon are like Harlequin Romances (actually, I think the Harlequin company own M&B now) but people use the term Mills and Boon to refer to any really soppy, old-fashioned romance with a dashing, arrogant hero who goes around acting like a pig and a spineless, quivering heroine who has the brains of a jellyfish.

So, as you can see, attempting to write these things as a teen is something me and Saya perhaps shouldn't mention in polite company (though I bet her Point Horror was miles better than my Mills and Boon).

Isabel said...

Oh. Well, thanks for answering my question so quickly. Goosebumps rings a bell, though I haven't read it (again, I don't read horror and I'm only eleven, so . . .)
But thank you. That's very helpful.
Forgive me if i am starting to get on your *nerves*. I'll leave you in peace now.

Saya said...

Ohhh Isabel, Point Horror was totally not a UK thing. They came here FROM the US, and got packaged as Point Horror - authors like Richie Tankersley Cusick (first one I ever read, Fatal Secrets), L J Smith, Caroline B Cooney, Christopher Pike and R L Stine (Goosebumps guy) - they were, however, a mid-to-late 90s thing, and you have to be a certain age to remember them. Aha, check these out: XD

Point *Crime*, on the other hand, was a UK thing...funny how English authors eschewed (and mostly continue to eschew) vampires and random murdery committed by angry boyfriends.

Nattasha said...

Isabel That is a great question, I started writing when I was 10 and then I would give my stories to my teachers as well. I think they just played along and said they were good as I recently reread one and it was awful.

Isabel said...

Nattasha: Why thank you, I thought so too. : ) Though I am also beginning to wonder what I might think of my own writing at age eleven now when I get to be twenty. You all seem so bitter about writing as a child that I am beginning to wonder . . .
Saya: I'll check that out, though it may take about an hour for me to even type the address!! ha ha.

Isabel said...

Hi Zoe, another book recommendation!
I recently read a book by Cayla Kluver called Legacy, and it is absolutely FAB. Seriously, this girl is 18 and she got it self published at about 14. She's from the U.S., like me, but her novel (which is soon to be a trilogy, I can't wait for 'Allegiance' and 'Redemption' to come out) has been translated into Dutch, Italian and other languages. She's already won at least three prestigious awards for this novel, and has been taken on by both AmazonEncore and, recently, Harlequin books. Her book made me cry, laugh . . . just, Oh My Gosh. You need to read this, and anyone else out there reading me gushing on about her and this novel, YOU DO TOO! I'm serious.
Isabel XD

Zoë Marriott said...

Nattasha: don't be too harsh on yourself! What's 'good' is all relative, and I cringe now looking at things that I wrote a couple of years ago. It's just a sign that your skills are still growing. The day you stop learning is the day it all stops being fun!

Isabel: I'll definitely look that one up if I can! I'm going to give myself a week off aftr finishing FF and I'll need as big a TBR pile as possible, so all the recs help.

Isabel said...

Ah, well, I have a virtually unlimited supply of suggestions for books to read. Here are some more for you to maybe keep in the back of your mind, and if you ever are in need of even more, just ask me and I'd be happy to suggest a few. Well, here they are:

The Goose Girl, by Shannon Hale (There are three more in the series, because it's based on the four elements. I think it's some sort of retelling of another story that i think is called the goose girl too, but the other three are completely made up. Ah, and maybe you should know this about me: I just got out of a prolonged faze of being absolutely OBSESSED with the four elements. I still like them, but I'm pretty out of that. )

The Amaranth Enchantment, by Julie Berry

Sphinx's Princess, by Esther Friesner

Nobody's Princess, also by Esther Friesner with a sequel called Nobody's Prize (Sphinx's Princess is not in that series, it's stand-alone)

Hmm, let me just skip over to my bookshelf . . .
Ah, and Wildwood Dancing, by Juliet Marrilier (Its sequel is Cybele's Secret, which is on my personel TBR pile)
Oh, haha, I was about to say Daughter of the Flames, when I suddenly realized who I was talking to! Oh, there are so many more that are absolutely to die for, but too many to state here.
Anyway, feel free to check these out. If you need more suggestions, then just say so. Suggesting books is one of may favorite things to do besides reading them and writing them. And if you do happen to read one or two, tell me what you think. I'd love to know. : )

Zoë Marriott said...

Thanks, Isabel!

Isabel said...

You Welcome. I can't believe I spelled 'personal' wrong on my last comment. Some writer you must think me now. Oh well,

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