Thursday, January 13, 2011
"I suck at writing!"
You ever read something you've written and then throw your hands up in the air and tell your spouse "I suck at writing!"?
I've done it several times in the course of writing my novel, but I think I'm coming to the realization that sometimes I do suck. Not always, but sometimes I do. I am figuring out that I need to trust that inner voice that is telling me I suck. I’ll come back to that.
I’ve also read scenes that I said to myself, “Damn, that’s pretty good!” Sometimes, not always, and not nearly as often as I would like, but usually I’m somewhere in the middle. There is a big gulf between “Damn that’s good!” and “I suck!” Large parts of the story are moving between the big scenes in the outline, and I often don’t know for sure where I’m going between those big scenes. A lot of it might end up on the cutting room floor during the rewrite, but it’s good for me to write those scenes out so that I know where it’s going. I have the outline in my head (part of it on paper) but I do what is referred to as “Discovery Writing” for the stuff in between. I’ve had to back-track a couple of times because my characters were leading me down a dead end or a direction that would completely change the story. Sometimes those tangents are good enough to make me tweak the outline. Letting the characters bring the story to me is one of the great joys of writing.
I’ve heard many authors and writing coaches suggest that if you are stuck on a scene to just move past it and come back later, but my brain doesn’t seem to work that way. I need to know what’s going to happen next, because it might change everything. I grind on a scene for hours sometimes. I’m not what you would call a fast writer. The most I have ever written in one day is about 4000 words. It’s usually a lot closer to 500. But I struggle to get it right the first time. I’m not going to be one of those writers that can pump out a book every 3 months. It’s just not gonna happen. Not unless I see a major change in my skill set. I’m ok with that.
Getting back to listening to the inner voice, it can be very frustrating to work on a scene for hours then sit back and read what you’ve written and lament to your spouse that you should give up writing. What this usually means is it’s just not crafted right. Maybe it’s a scene that needs to be skipped because it’s boring, if you're bored so is your reader. Sometimes the struggles mean it just needs to go. Sometimes it means you are making the reader read your story instead of feeling the story.
After working one of those scenes that made you say “I suck!” until it feels right can really validate you. It can make you feel like maybe you can write after all; maybe you do have what it takes to do this as a professional. Sometimes the POV needs to be changed or maybe you need to add some movement so it’s not all just dialogue. People rarely just sit still and speak. They play with their hair and scratch their face and other body parts and fidget all over the place. Show that to your reader. Put them there in the scene so they can see the entire picture. Let them feel the emotions of your characters, don't just tell them that your character is nervous or angry, show them.
Trust yourself when you read back over something you’ve written and want to throw up. Just go back and fix it! You can do this! You're a writer after all!