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For context, I am a forty-something male from the Great Lakes region of the United States. I work full-time as something other than a writer.

About 25 years ago in high school, I was an almost-straight-A student. The "almost" was always due to English class. I hated, nay despised, the writing assignments I was given, believing the forced topics to be inane and worthless. Whenever I had to write an essay or research paper in another class, I could do just fine, thank you. I didn't need to compare and contrast the points of view of the boy in the story we had read with that of his father, as an example. Who cares?

My reason for mentioning this is that any previous answers I've heard to questions like this were along the lines of "your teachers at school" and "your supervisor/ co-workers." But I am long out of school and failed to recognize the resources at the time, and my workplace involves no creative writing whatsoever.

So now, I find myself with a couple of neat stories inside my head begging to be let out. I have also been diverting increasing amounts of my "hobby time" to sitting at this computer and typing out bits and pieces of these stories. When I review my own work, I know when I've written something bad, and can redo it. But I'm less confident in when I've written something really good, like maybe-I-could-publish-it-good.

I've got some characters, scenes, and dialogues I think are ok. But I also have some weak transitions, plot holes, and other minor issues I just can't seem to be able to tweak.

Where can I go, or who can I speak with, to read bits of my work, give me some friendly advice and constructive criticism?

  • First question here, and there doesn't seem to be a "mentoring" tag or anything else directly related. Please feel free to edit my tags, they are wild guesses. – cobaltduck Jan 22 '15 at 13:14
  • I haven't used it, but some people here really like Critique Circle. critiquecircle.com It's free and volunteer, I think. – Lauren-Clear-Monica-Ipsum Jan 22 '15 at 15:00
  • @LaurenIpsum Interesting. I may try this down the road, but for the moment I think I would prefer a more hands-on, face-to-face, back-and-forth interaction. – cobaltduck Jan 22 '15 at 17:00
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    ^^That sounds like a writer's group or a workshop. Google one in your area. – Lauren-Clear-Monica-Ipsum Jan 22 '15 at 17:04
  • ^^ meetup.com! Of course! I should've known. – cobaltduck Jan 22 '15 at 23:52
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Your age has nothing to do with your problems, and you need the same things any beginning writers needs, at whatever age.

Therefore, the basic answer to your question is:

Stop viewing yourself as age-handicapped and start looking for solutions to your writing problems.

All of the problems you have raised in your question have been asked and answered many times on this site. But I'll try and give a very brief answer to most of them.

  1. Don't fall in love so much with one particual piece of writing that you feel you need to polish it to perfection. Instead, think of writing as similar to learning to walk: When you learn to walk, you learn to walk, not learn to walk this one specific length of floor from the sofa to your dad. So write one story as well as you can, then put it away and write the next one. You can always come back to your previous writings once you have gained the skill to perfect them, but if you keep focused on the same writing you are essentially disabling yourself by keeping yourself in a place of failure. Again think of learning to walk: You tried to walk those first steps, but fell. Now, instead of getting up again and trying to walk again, you are sitting there, willing yourself to fall up again, so you can continue that failed walk. That won't work. Your writing is as good as you can presently make it, and no amount of willpower will give you the immediate skill to make it perfect. Sure, you can rewrite and rewrite and rewrite and probably one day your story will be publishable, but that effort will likely exhaust you and stifle your creativity forever. Rather, you should view writing as a skill you want to achieve, and that works best if you derive the most pleasure from the process of writing, not the finished outcome. Think of a sportsperson. If that person only derives pleasure from winning, or breaking their personal record, then they will soon lose all joy in their sport, because they cannot always win or be better than last time. But if they love working out and training, then they will have great fun with their activity and eventually get better at it. So switch your focus from the outcome (publish that one story) to the process (get better at writing) and keep "working out" by writing one story after another – and maybe rewriting older ones after a few months or years.

  2. Between stories, read a lot. Do not read the kind of story you write while you write it, or you will create nothing but bad copies. But do read what you love when you are in between writings. What you read does not have to be in the same genre as your writings. My favourite example is Tolkien: he never read the kind of story he wrote, simply because nothing like that existed before he created that genre. But he certainly was immersed in great language all the time, and this immersion endowed him with a superior "feel" for language and the ability to form elegant and pleasing sentences and understand plot. Sure there are writers who have never read anything much beyond train schedules and cereal boxes, and they have developed their own style and influenced many other writers, but the easy way if you want to write not experimental literature but popular fiction is to feed yourself with the knowledge of what is genre fiction. So, read a lot, when you are between stories, but read with a writer's eye: see how the story begins and how that beginning relates to the story and its end; observe where the story lags and why; and so on. Let the problems you face in your writings guide your attention while you read and try to see how other authors solved those problems. Read not to be entertained, but analyze what you read. (You can do both at the same time. Sometimes it helps to have fun the first time you read a novel, and then go back and re-read certain parts of it.)

  3. There are many forums where people post (links to their) writing and ask for criticism. There are specialised forums like the ones mentioned in the answers to this question, and there are more general writer's forums that have criticism subforums, like the Absolute Write Water Cooler and others. Use Google. Which one works best for you, you must find out. There is no one "best" place.

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    This is an excellent response, but I must address some points. First, I never felt age-handicapped, but you've made me realize I was thinking resource-handicapped. As in, those guys over there are surrounded by writers and have their pick of mentors, whereas I am surrounded by IT Geeks and will have to scrounge for mentoring. I will focus on eliminating that point of view. Thanks. For your para #2, I've done that my whole life- a voracious reader of mystery, fantasy, techno-thriller, and more. Good to know I've been on a positive tack. For para #3, see my response to Lauren Ipsum. – cobaltduck Jan 23 '15 at 14:52
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    @cobaltduck Also an excellent point with the put it away and write the next one, IMHO. A new writer such as myself, learns much with every story they write "properly", so the key is really trying to maximize the number of different stories you write. The really cool part is that a new writer has this question: What is wrong with my writing and how can I find it? The answer is that your worst problems are the ones show up in every story you write, major problems in most stories you write, and that they will become obvious, if you just write lots of different stories. – Ville Niemi Jan 24 '15 at 14:34
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Here's an idea:

Make Your Story Available

  1. Get a google drive account. It's 100% free.
  2. write your story and save it on your google drive.
  3. share the document via URL -- it's easy to do -- then you can give the URL to people you want to read your story.

Gather Feedback

  1. Next, you use Google Drive to create a Feedback Form.
  2. You just say, New Form and add questions*.
  3. Share the form so your readers can provide feedback anonymously.

*These questions will be things like:

  1. Overall, did you enjoy reading the story? rate 1 to 5 (5 being best)

  2. What was your favorite part of the story? [text]

  3. What was your least favorite part? [text]
  4. Did you like the main character? (yes/no)
  5. Was the plotting overall interesting? (yes/no) etc.

Here's the sample so you can see it. Yes, it's a strange public URL, but it's real and it works. It saves all hte user's responses in a spreadsheet on your Google Drive.

https://docs.google.com/forms/d/1kXu0p7ed9fTkgzxH9RzBieonfwD3XgIdIKcuAD9iti4/viewform?usp=send_form

The Benefits Are Many

This helps you get more feedback and allows users to respond anonymously so they don't have to feel like they are hurting your feelings. You can make the questions far more specific too.

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We're living in the Internet era. Take advantage of the Internet.

So, go check websites. Writers SE is one of the most helpful sites I've encounter (I won't go into details with it since you're already here). The other one is Scribophile, which does exactly what you're requesting. And more.

Here's a screenshot from my own account (these are feedback from other users):

enter image description here

enter image description here

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Have a look in your local area for writers groups. Most communities have them and local libraries will usually be able to give you information. Having a network of people that can give you honest, constructive feedback is a resource that every writer should have.

Make sure you read lots, too. Reading in the genre that you want to write in will help, but so will reading those around it - for instance, if you're writing crime, thrillers can also overlap, or fantasy and scifi.

If you're really not happy with something, put it to the side for a while and work on something else. When you go back to it, be somewhere else (for instance in a coffee shop instead of at home), and maybe even have a print out instead of seeing it on screen. This will allow you to make annotations and see things in a completely different way.

Look for books and blogs on writing. One of my favourites is David Morley's 'The Cambridge Guide to Creative Writing'. I used this for my MA course (in Creative Writing), and it has advice on all aspects of Creative Writing as well as writing prompts.

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