What Writers Can Learn from George McFly

While everyone remembers the escapades of Michael J. Fox in Back to the Future, there’s one scene that’s valuable to anyone that wants to write. It’s the scene in which Fox comes across the high school version of his father, a man furiously writing down his science fiction stories, but too afraid to ever risk showing them to anyone; to quote the man, “What if people don’t like them?”

sci-fi, Lightrider Journals, publishing, writing, writing tips, fears, Eric Nierstedt

What’s holding you back?

For writers, that is a constant fear. But just to be able to write period, we can’t be George McFly. A writer can’t improve, can’t learn, if he doesn’t have feedback from people around him. What people don’t like may point the way towards improvement and better technique. But at the same time, a writer can’t allow everyone else to change the story, or it loses any touch the writer might put into it. As I’ve continued to write and show my work to others hoping for even the barest criticism, I’ve learned three very real ways to determine whether or not you should take the advice of others on your work.

Is it constructive?

Most writers will tell you the worst thing they can hear about their work is simply ‘It’s good.” This is a bland, insipid comment that doesn’t help us improve. But the same holds true for over reaching comments like, “I hated it,” and “It was terrible.” Often times, these are just people that don’t like your work and are just berating it. But there is often a nugget of real criticism in there. So if you do hear a negative comment about your work, ask about it. Don’t let the person get away with just empty  hatred;  find what they’re unhappy about. If there’s nothing, you end up fretting about something you can’t change. If you do find something, ask yourself the next question.

How would impact the book?

Just because you hear a constructive suggestion doesn’t mean it’s a good one. For example, it was once suggested to me that I make my Water Knight a sperm whale, as I was having trouble with a good water breathing animal. Now, the sperm whale is certainly a fine water animal, so there is some thought to the suggestion. But it is also gigantic and would require a lot of work to come across on land. Plus, it is not a more common sea animal that people think of. So it was a constructive suggestion that really wouldn’t do anything positive for the book. Meanwhile, I mentioned earlier how suggestions caused me to change the genders of many characters, which did add some great dimensions. So just because it’s a constructive suggestion doesn’t mean it’s a great one.

Do YOU like it?

This is one I learned in my last college writing course. The goal was to write a fifty page work of some kind by the end of the semester, while taking criticism from the teacher and classmates. I submitted the first fifty pages of Lightrider and generally got good thoughts from the ‘gallery.’ But at one point, my work was up on the screen, and my professor looked over a particular section I’d already reworked and shook her head. I was extremely angry and frustrated because I was proud of the section and had no idea what else I could do with it. But then my professor discussed how at the end of the day, our work had to be something we could be proud of. I discussed the comments with her after class, and she reiterated how the stories were our own and we each had to be happy with them. That was when I realized that I was happy with the story, and I didn’t need to change it. No matter what happened, it was always going to be MY story.

Since I’ve started writing, I’ve tried to follow these steps when I hear criticism. It helps to filter out a lot of the fears that come with hearing negative comments, find what’s good and what’s just empty thoughts, and finally, how to really improve my story, but not lose myself in doing so. And eventually, a writer doing that will be able to open up a box with his newly published sci-fi romance, just like George McFly eventually did.

Posted on February 14, 2013, in Writing Tips and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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