How to make my writing better?

“Insanity is doing the same thing, over and over again, but expecting different results.”

Albert Einstein.

E=mc² Einstein

 image by Binlid at

I’m not good at asking for help, but I’ve reached a point in my writing where I can’t move forward without it.

Apart from an LSJ course on Writing for Children (which was excellent), no one has ever critiqued my work. I don’t belong to a writers’ group and I don’t have critique partners, but I also don’t have a completed manuscript, so to be fair, I was concentrating my efforts on that.

Here’s the problem: for the last few weeks I’ve been posting short flash fiction stories to the Writer Unboxed site for their summer competition. This was a big step, no one apart from the tutor at LSJ had ever read my work. And I had ‘beginners luck’ I think, as the first posting got an honourable mention, but the thing is, I’ve been posting every week since then, and I’m just not getting any better, or even equalling that first success, and I don’t know why.

My goal is to write novels, and I appreciate that short stories (and you don’t get much shorter than flash fiction) are a different medium entirely. But I should still be able to see where I’m going wrong.

Maybe I’m bad at editing – when I read the stories over, I don’t know what’s missing, but I’m clearly not connecting with the readers or the judges. If anything, I’m getting less ‘likes’ each week I enter.

There are a couple of my stories that I don’t like myself, in retrospect, but others I still do. And this isn’t about wanting to win the competition, it’s about spotting a problem and just not knowing how to fix it.

And then I thought about an episode of The Big Bang Theory I’d seen, where Sheldon quoted Einstein’s definition of insanity. Click here for a clip from the same episode, but not the actual quote, which is so good, you’re getting it again –

Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again but expecting different results


I don’t want to be that person, it strikes me as such a huge waste of time, (I barely have enough of that as it is!), so I need to ask for help.

I’ve decided to reach out to a couple of other bloggers and see if they know of any competitions or other online forums where I can submit work and where feedback is encouraged.

I’ll let you know how I get on.

And if you’re aware of any such places out on the Web, could you let me know?



10 thoughts on “How to make my writing better?

  1. Hi Trudy,

    Hey, I’ve also been posting on WU starting last week. I got an honorable mention, which I treat the same as someone being extra nice when they meet a dwarf or the like. This week I posted two stories and have 0/9 votes so far. They “don’t like” my Poe version, but “like” my Steinbeck version.

    My wife, who edits all my work, hated them both equally.

    It is quite subjective and, like performing live, you take your chances putting it out there and hope you entertain. Personally, I “liked” yours, and the voting still has a few days left.

    Oh, and take my Poe version: “Green glades bright with the lost sunshine of childhood” and “red lips dusted in soot.” I thought these author types would love that stuff – but I guess I’m a century too late.

    Keep up the good work, never despair, and don’t let some unqualified number (votes) distract you from writing.

    P.S. My wife submitted this time also (Linda Lou, she has a blog and a published book) and only has one vote so far.

    • Awww, thanks Mike. That’s really encouraging.
      The standard of writing on WU is very high, I’ve just been reading through all the stories, and personally I enjoyed the language of your Poe story, and the vampire tale.
      You are lucky to have a second pair of eyes to look over your work, sorry she hated both of them! We’re advised that distance gives you perspective to edit your own writing, but in a competition like this, with such a fast turnaround, it’s not easy is it?
      Thanks so much for stopping by, and btw, your wife has 2 likes now, I thought her story was very subtle, and sadly, very true to life.

      Courtesy of another blogger, Claire Fuller at, I’ve found out about another great site for posting short fiction, where comments and critique are encouraged, which should give me the second pair of eyes I think I need.

      • Thanks for mentioning the link to the Friday Fictioneers! We’d love to have you and anyone else who wants to join. The photo prompts are posted on Wednesdays (today’s is here: Usually the photos are beautiful and interesting… but today’s is gross and interesting. LOL. Just a fair warning. It’s only a plant, but it looks very nasty.

        If an author wants critique, be sure to say so. Some will offer crit anyway, but I don’t unless it’s specified that the author wants it. Some of our members are just sharing to share and are not interested in public crit. Once I get to know someone’s preferences, if I see ways it can be improved, I’ll offer suggestions even if it’s not posted.

        • Madison, thanks for stopping by, and more than happy to share the link. You’re right – the photo for this week’s prompt is a bit gross, and should fire up some interesting posts!

  2. Oh, MICHAEL! Your take on the meaning of honorable mention is deplorable. It’s an honor, for God’s sake. Do I have to edit EVERY word you write?

    Trudy, you may want to consider working with a writing coach. People take dance lessons and piano lessons… writers can benefit from the same type of tutelage. Good luck!

    • I am chuckling in my very reserved English way at this exchange – mealtimes must be fun at your house.
      Thanks for stopping by Linda, and for your advice, and the giggle.

  3. I also only got one honourable mention and no winning entries on Writer Unboxed – and this despite coming second in the number of likes one week (and I didn’t get the honourable mention for this one). I think the judges at Writer Unboxed were looking for something very specific – a story with a beginning, middle and end – very hard to do in only 250 words.

    Although constructive criticism from peers is essential – so is just keeping writing. According to Malcolm Gladwell aren’t we meant to have done 10,000 hours before we’ll be any good…?

    • Your story on Writer Unboxed featuring the dancing Peggy Hillcoat was just lovely, and very popular, judging by the number of likes. I thought it was a Finalist for sure, but as you say, they were looking for stand alone stories – tough within the word count.
      I know you like your stories to fit with your larger work, which seems very sensible.
      I’ve found writing to prompts really inspiring, but I always end up following a new idea, and that isn’t helping my word count any!
      I’ve heard about this 10,000 hours, though I can’t remember where. I must be a long way off that. Think I might try and do the maths on that, just out of interest, to see how far along I really am!

  4. Hi Trudy,

    I love flash fiction, and consider it as the ‘warm up’ session to my WIP. Luckily, I get to do some every week to take to my writers critique group. Its our homework, and serves to keep everyone writing.

    So no matter how busy you are during the week, you are expected to turn up with at least the 100, 150, or 200 words as set by the Chair. I have mixed reactions to my work – some weeks well received, others I am told its lacking in dialogue, or they just didn’t get it…

    Fair enough, its all subjective. The real benefit for me, comes when we critique the main pieces of writing, and reading between the lines on your post, this is what you really need, and want, I suspect. Even if you think, you don’t!

    Why not look for a writing buddy? I know, I know…it not that easy, but maybe make small steps now towards finding one. Start with someone whose writing you have read and admire, maybe they write in the same genre, maybe not, approach them and ask if they are interested in doing a deal, maybe once a month meet up and each read 500 words of a WIP? Or via email? Both of you will have to commit though, but you could see how it goes…

    Or bite the bullet and join a group? But do take care…groups come in all forms as I have found out over time. I won’t go into details. It sounds like you need a critique group to help you move forward. Interestingly, by listening to what others have to say about a piece of writing that isn’t yours, in a group setting, often benefits your own writing.

    Alternatively, there are places online where you can get help. I have joined Writers Huddle, which is ran by Ali Luke who is a well known writing coach

    There is some additional info here

    I am sure there are other groups out there too.

    Through trial and error you’ll find what you need. I’m comfortable with my group, have a good buddy to share manuscripts with over a cup of tea, and find the support in the Huddle very good…I learnt the hard and long winded way though, you only get out, what you put in…

    Best of luck, I am sure you’ll find what you are looking for…

    • Wow! Some really great advice here, thanks so much Maria.
      I’ve been enjoying the children this holiday, but they’ll be back at school next week, and I’ll definitely be looking into the links you’ve posted.
      Thanks again.

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