Saturday, July 2, 2011

So, What Exactly Have I Been Doing?

Over the past weeks, I have been spending much less time blogging (a great diversion during ‘writer’s block’), and a whole lot of time writing—finally. Some of that time has consisted of re-writing—not simply revising—earlier work. As a result, I have come to realize something very empowering. I have progressed as a writer!

When I completed my first novel over 20 years ago, somewhere deep down inside—as proud as I was of it—I knew it was crap. I couldn’t define exactly why, but I knew it was. I stuck it in a drawer and there it remains.

Exactly 4 years ago, I gave voice to another story that wouldn’t leave me alone. I hadn’t a clue about good writing, but that wasn’t my focus. I simply had a story I wanted to tell. My husband was out of town for five weeks and I decided to share that story with him. When he called every evening, I read what I had written. I had never felt the serotonin levels spike the way they did the summer I wrote Girl Running. I LOVED WRITING. As an added perk, after 17 years of marriage, I surprised and impressed my Todd.

Then I wrote the sequel, Portrait of a Protégé. Still, I didn’t know the ‘rules’ of good writing and so my words and the story had free reign. When I finished, I loved the story, but I knew my writing had problems—and I had no idea what they were, let alone how to fix them. It was frustrating, but didn’t stop me from writing some more.

So, I moved on. I finished the first draft of Story for a Shipwright two years ago, simultaneous with my blogging debut, and I started to learn and to revise.

Now, I’ve gone back to Girl Running and Protégé. Oh my goodness, what a revelation. Now I can see the problems: I was in love with:
• Long, convoluted sentences: the more semi-colons and em-dashes; and; as; but;—not to mention however and nevertheless—the better! (you see what I mean)
• Big, obscure, eye-rolling words (words that even I can’t remember what they mean)
• Switching POV willy-nilly. Oh my! Talk about head-hopping
• Long, descriptive passages filled with adverbs and other modifiers

• Passive voice and weak verbs
• Pointless scenes
• Back-story info dumps
• Redundant dialogue tags
And the list goes on and on…including my whopping 150+K and 120+K word counts

However, I did find some good.
• Some strong characters with good potential
• Moderately tight plots
• Good, well thought out dialogue, much of it salvageable (even if it was buried in long descriptive tags.)
• Some nicely turned phrases that I could easily recycle
So, that’s what I’ve been up to—writing for the fun of it, finally knowing how to bring out the best in these stories. I am so excited to find joy in my writing again!

…and thanks to Michelle David Argyle at The Innocent Flower who continues to post honestly about the emotional ups and downs of writing versus publishing, helping me sort out my own expectations.


  1. Your lists of positive and negative in your past writing are eerily similar to what I know I'll find when I start editing my current novel. Everything except the the willy-nilly POV swap. (And especially the info-dumps.)

    Glad to hear you're having so much fun writing and rewriting, and I wish you all the best as you make these stories shine.

  2. I think that's always the way of it. I'm replanning an old novel right now, one I actually had an agent for, and I'm still like "Oh my God, how could I have let it go out like that?"

    It's nice to know we're still getting better, even if it's taken years to realize it.

  3. Nate, Oh the info-dump—we do so love to explain and embellish, don’t we?
    I should have added past participle phrases to my list. I didn’t even know what one is (not sure that I could define it right now, but I know it when I see it!)

    Bryan, I know what you mean about cringing at what we’ve put out there prematurely. I don’t know if I cringe more at the fact that I actually queried Girl Running (no requests, whatsoever), or when I think of the friends and family that I made slog their way through it, lol!

  4. "For the fun of it", that's the ticket. If it ain't fun, then it ain't worth it.

  5. Hey Ricky! I guess I've always known that 'it just ain't worth it if it ain't fun'--I think I was just having a hard time figuring out how to get my 'fun' back., that I've got it, I must remember how to keep it! :)

  6. Isn't it wonderful to look back on things and see this kind of stuff? It truly is amazing, and I think this is the essence of what we should be doing as writers - comparing ourselves with ourselves and nobody else.

    Thanks for the mention about my post. :)

  7. Michelle, your posts have really helped me a lot...

    ...and that's a good point about comparing ourselves with ourselves and nobody else. I hadn't ever really thought of it that way, but it's a far healthier way to look at my writing...

    Perhaps until now, I hadn't accumulated enough past work to do a comparison. I suppose that's one of the benefits of keeping on writing, even if we feel as if what we're putting out is crap. For me, at least it's improving crap, lol :)

  8. Your story mirrors mine, or mine yours. What else is there to say? Good luck and congratulations on writing more and blogging less.

  9. Yvonne, Sometimes I feel like such an oddball, but if there's one thing I've discovered in my writing journey, it's that there are other oddballs out there, WRITERS! (I'm still an oddball in my everyday realm, but I'm okay with that.)

    It seems that our--writers-- experiences follow parallel paths, with many of the same pitfalls and elations. One of the things I have truly benefited from is meeting other writers (such as yourself) through blogging, but it can also turn into a handy device that keeps us from concentrating on serious writing when we feel stuck. I've always been better at slow-and-steady--time to apply it even more so to blogging...

    All the best to you, Yvonne!

  10. This is great -- revisit the past and make corrections. I sense that it is fun.

    I know that when I revisit something that I have written I immediately see long convoluted sentences. For some reason, I just can't get simple sentences on paper the first time around.

  11. Jerry, ...revisit the past and make corrections... Ha! if only we could do that in real life!

    Perhaps that's one of the things we love about much easier to manipulate the past--and the future for that matter.

    oh, and personally, I really enjoy your occasional convoluted sentences--you pull it off with charm! :)

  12. James Michener said, "I'm not a very good writer, but I'm an excellent rewriter."

    I envy that, the patience it takes to revisit and rewrite. I enjoy writing so much the first time, but can rarely bring myself to even bother rereading my own work let alone rewriting it. Let me ask you, is the patience to reread and rewrite something that you cultivated over time, or is it just part of your nature to be patient like that? I want to develop that skill.

    Congratulations on getting some good work done! I loved the part about reading the story to your husband.

  13. Lisa, Hi!
    For me, one of the biggest thrills of writing was (and remains) the anticipation of my husband reading it. (In Girl Running, two of the characters are the dichotomy of his personality—he’s such fun to dissect!)

    As far as the rewriting goes, I suppose when I started out, I had a strong sense that my writing needed a lot of improvement, so the obsessive (not necessarily patient) part of me kicked in. I love going back and adding more depth to my characters and the plot, but even more, I just have trouble leaving it alone and knowing when it’s done.

    Now, as my writing skills have improved, I find the first draft more challenging (I have a tendency to begin obsessing over word choices and sentence structure right off—now that I’ve learned so many rules—er…guidlines.)

    So, I’m trying something new: Since dialogue is one of my stronger points, I do more of a dialogue sketch for each scene, and then, it’s even more fun to go back and fill in all the subtle nuances and setting. It doesn’t feel quite so OCD and allows me to work more efficiently, I think. I guess I’m trying to blend the pantser in me with an outliner...

    ...and by the way, Todd's been out of town for the past six weeks, allowing me to complete the rewrites! I can't wait to have him read! :)

  14. Love your description of the process, and adore that your husband is so supportive. Directing him must be great fun!

  15. hehehe...he's fun to dissect anddirect! ;)