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Saturday, June 10, 2017

Taming the Unteachable Spirit

by Patty Smith-Hall, @pattywrites

At a recent readers luncheon, I was paired with a young writer who unfortunately knew everything that was to know about the craft of writing. It may sound a bit judgmental but I picked up on the warning signs almost immediately. According to her, the writing groups she had visited ‘just didn’t get her style.’ She refused to part of a critique group because in the past, they ‘tried to change my voice’ with corrections and suggestions. She finally told me she didn’t need nor want any help.

Bless her heart!

I didn’t have it in me to tell her that leaning the craft of writing was a life-long journey or that the input of more experienced writers can propel you to the next level. She would have to learn this the hard way just like I did.

Yes, I had an unteachable spirit early in my career. In those first days, I was giddy with excitement over everything I wrote, certain that I’d enter a contest, win it and draw the attention of a big publishing house dying to publish my story. I thought I’d be on my way!

Boy, was I stupid! Not only did I not win, I didn’t even final and the red marks on my returned entry covered so much of my work, I actually asked the contest coordinator if there had been a mistake. (To this day, I still cringe when I think about it!) When she gently explained to me there was no mistake, I knew the truth. Not only was I embarrassed, I’d sabotaged myself by not listening to the more experienced writers around me trying to help me become a better writer.

So how do you tame the unteachable spirit? Here’s three ways:

  1. Admit you have a problem.

    Ask yourself a couple of questions and be perfectly honest. When a critique partner makes a note that something is unclear in your writing, do you try to explain yourself? (A big no-no. Remember, you’re not going to be there to explain it to your readers!) Do you think any type of correction is an attempt to change your voice? Do you scoff at people who offer suggests to your story? If you answer yes to any of these questions, you’ve definitely got a problem. The only way to grow as a writer is to admit you don’t know much at all. But take heart. None of us do, which is why writing is a life-long learning experience.

  2. Grow a thick skin.

    Years after the contest fiasco, I signed up for Jerry Jenkin’s thick-skin manuscript class. I even sent in my first chapter for one of the in-class critiques. It didn’t really hit me what I might be in for until I talked to a multi-published friend who said(with a look of absolute terror in her eyes) she’d never been brave enough to let Mr. Jenkins use his red pen on her work. But I had a reason for my madness; I needed a thicker skin if I ever wanted to get published.

    Writing is a tough business. The truth is you’re never going to please everyone with your stories. Contest, while good, are subjective. Editors and agents are looking at what sales. Even when you’re published, some reader will leave you a one-starred review even after admitting they didn’t read the book. So if you are working toward publication, you’d better toughen up. You can’t survive this industry without a thick hide.

  3. It takes a village to write a book.

    Writing is often referred to as a solitary job, and I agree to a point. Alone, we wrangle with phrases and sentences until we arrange them just so. But writing a book also takes the help of many others; critique partners, mentors, your local writing group. These people walk alongside us, offering encouragement and advice, sometimes even reading your work for the twenty-fourth time just to help you fill a plot point. Writing a novel is a group effort.

Do you have an unteachable spirit when it comes to your writing? 


Meet seven of Turtle Springs, Kansas’, finest women who are determined to revive their small town after the War Between the States took most of its men. . .and didn’t return them. The ladies decide to advertise for husbands and devise a plan for weeding out the riff raff. But how can they make the best practical choices when their hearts cry out to be loved?
Patty Smith-Hall is a multi-published, award-winning author with Love Inspired Historical/Heartsong and currently serves as president of the ACFW-Atlanta chapter. She currently lives in North Georgia with her husband of 30+ years, Danny; two gorgeous daughters and a future son-in-love. Her next release, New Hope Sweethearts will
be available in July on Amazon.


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